Where to begin?
Since 1994, William Faith and Monica Richards have created romantic myth-rock with flashes of their shared punk roots. Their only real stylistic contemporaries are Eric and Lisa Hammer (Mors Syphilitica).
After the consistent elements among the first three albums (and one retrospective, "Vera Causa"), "The Burning Season" is a sharp slap up the side of the head. All the usual emotion and drama are present, but with a fiercely updated atmosphere. Ain't no "Sea Angler," ain't no "Reine La Belle." The beats are faster, the vocal tactics are more varied, and there's an honest-to-God guitar solo!
The intro "Bait & Switch" is a warning shot of deathrock across the bow. Then POW!-"Sredni Vashtar" has an even faster beat and relentless rhythm. Seven years ago, Monica sang "Come to life my second skin / Come protect the madness locked within."
Well, now: "Time to drop the seventh veil and let some madness wander in."
The trappings of Renaissance and Celtic music I've come to expect are stripped away, even on songs of historical legend like "Boudiccea." Much of the instrumentation and song structure runs 1980s-present. A notable exception is the funeral-jazz "Gone to Ground." A controlled weariness creeps into Monica's vocals here, and it works.
The title track has a very cinematic feel, with Creatures-style drum programming. Overall, this CD has less low-end thunder and music layering than the previous releases. It sounds like the greenery has been burned away. Still, it isn't a TOTAL departure; Monica's vocals on "Boudiccea," "Whispered In Your Ear," and "Visions" are in that gentle, comfortable mid-range she and the late Kirsty Maccoll own. William's acoustic guitar is as soothing and intricate as his electric guitar is energetic. Speaking of which, the old-school punk declaration "Relic Song" features the aforementioned solo, with a hilarious sample of a cheering stadium crowd. It's gallows humor (exhibit A: page 2 of the lyrics, bottom right corner), and it works for me.
"In The Amber Room" is a seductive ethereal piece, with NIN-esque electronics and soprano vocals that harken to Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins). William puts a twist on the wrath he brought to "Trauma Coil" with "Failure To Thrive." He doesn't yell this time, but the anger and admonition are clear: "A torch to the error and a cold hard look in the eye." The truth-seeker Diogenes would like this tune.
No, this CD isn't a retread of the first three. Faith and The Muse are artists; it's not SUPPOSED to be. They don't sound tired - they just sound tired of the petty aspects of this big, cyclical journey we endure. ("This is not a darker age / Just the turning of the wheel.")
As for the gentle closer "Willow's Song:" this may be the ultimate Third Date Song. Monica wore bells on her ankles while recording this one. After about two minutes, ankle bells may be the ONLY thing you're wearing. Trust me.