49 Burning Condors - Seventh Hymnal (Album Review)

The personification of nature as a mother makes sense; the word "nature" comes from the Latin "natura", meaning "birth". If nature is our meta-maternal figure, we are the fruit from her branches. We grow and fall around her multi-faceted world with merely the illusion of choice. The Gaia hypothesis supposes that we live in a self-contained system where everything from the frogs to the clouds is living in harmony thanks to the Greek primordial god Gaia who watches over everything with her loving but fair femininity. This idea has been present in many cultures and histories throughout time, and it's no wonder why this philosophy, as earthily puritanical as it is, wouldn't converge with the far-out wave of 'spiritual folk-rock purveyors 49 Burning Condors.

The curiously named Pennsylvanians classify themselves as 'gothic witch rock', and while the description certainly fits, one can't help but note the fusion of Romani music with the accessible emotion of Americana. Violinist Andriana Markano playfully sweeps her notes upwards in a frenzy aside the acoustic steel-string guitar of Christopher Tremoglie. Likewise, drummer Jason Gooch stomps out beats like a sailor freshly ashore while bassist Zach Rinck provides the rock with his unassuming but lurking lines. Kimber Dulin's capricious vocals deliver mighty character throughout, even and especially when they veer towards her cabaret style.

The group's Seventh Hymnal has a warm and rich sound. The opening track, "Bayou", mournfully unfolds like a funeral procession; mysterious vocals shrouded under a wave of static, marching thumps, dramatic piano strikes, folk guitar licks, and Markano's violin providing the musicality of ceremony. The group merge well here, as they do across the album's seven tracks. The number seven is used for the thematic form of this concept album; a poetic albeit baffling story of a willow tree that swallows corpses while singers lure drifters ashore and the devil force-feeds mud to those who survive, notably young children who learn from a wise woman on a hill until the deity of mother nature comes to "rain down fury". Yikes. 

The album is full of references to earth ("Hibiscus ooze, Seaweed grin") and loyal to its gothic folk-rock sound, like on "Little Death", which segues from the intro into romantically macabre psychedelia, or the album highlight "Noonday", with its elegant string arrangement, chugging rhythm, and plea for exorcism ("Release me, I don't wish to see"). Elsewhere, "Red Drum Skin" brings welcome rhythmic funk rock to the equation, the country-twinged "Chapel Hill" is upbeat with a menacing crescendo, and the closing title track starts as a cathartic pop moment before twisting into a bittersweet and ultra-melodic finale that reveals mother nature, in all her warmth and providence, might also be vengeful.


What works about "Seventh Hymnal" is that it brings a sense of theatrics via Dulin's idiosyncratic singing and confidently obtuse stories full of characters and iconography to this enjoyable paganistic folk rock.