The Blackheart Orchestra – Mute: Album Review

The Blackheart Orchestra reassess their library of work in a Julian Lloyd Webber-style set of instrumental variations.

blackheart orchestra mute

Release date: 25th June 2021

Label: Six For Dead Records

Format: CD / DL

Reworkings of a selection from three albums – Mesmeranto, Diving For Roses and Songs From A Satellite – form an interesting little alternative project for the duo that is The Blackheart Orchestra.

Mute does what it says on the tin. An album devoid of vocals. Interesting when you consider TBO is a band/duo with such a distinctive vocal presence as Chrissy Mostyn whose ethereal and crystalline tones have graced their work so far, you wonder if and how it’s going to work. You even wonder IF it’s going to work. That’s particularly the case as she usually graces the album covers, providing a strong image, but even that’s absent this time. We’re clearly treading new ground.

Inside the artily constructed cover, we get totally recreated songs in a new form and not simply with the vocals mixed out. If you’re going to rework, then do it properly. The duo describes Mute as: “a rock album with a classical dimension or an album of contemporary classical music with an orchestra playing with a rock band of electronica enthusiasts” and with that in mind, we pressed play…

OK – so I made the mistake of listening first to Back To Earth. It’s a personal favourite from Mesmeranto where the skittering rhythms and electronics (plus Chrissy’s heartbreaking appeal in the “Oh God, you said this wouldn’t hurt” line) really showcase the electronica influences. It also just happens to perfectly highlight how these songs have been reinterpreted. The minute and a half of reimagining is severely wonderful. The lush string effect and then the melody picked up by some subtle brass (not for the only time) brings that enveloping warmth. Goosebumps? Hair on the back of the neck? Take your pick. The only complaint is it’s over too quickly so be prepared to place this piece on loop.

Meanwhile, briefly sated, we can enjoy the return to some of the older Songs From A Satellite material – any newer fans who need a nudge to check out the earlier work grab the opportunity now. Thankfully, This Romance is an equal match for the uplifting giant of Back To Earth. I’ve now got this earmarked as a potential TV theme tune. The sway of the strings is irresistible. There’s some lovely guitar work (not for the only time) breaking the surface in Rain On Me and talking of which – the solo on the dramatic Breathe shows off what might have been not so much a hidden side, but one that’s under-represented in the catalogue and more caught up in the mix of the original. The bold rumble of timpani announces the arrival of an inspired take.

While several pieces are drastically reworked, there are some aspects that remain very familiar. The looping guitar on Hypnotize branches into hypnotic (naturally) repeating sequences that are allowed to flow and breathe. Already a starkly arranged track, Falling, without Chrissy’s vocal follows a suitably ‘less is more’ path until the huge crescendo again allows Rick to cut loose on some lead lines.

Says Rick Pilkington: “It’s been such a pleasant learning experience figuring out how to express the songs in a new language without words, and having all the opportunities to expand every arrangement with new instrumentation and indulge my appetite for orchestration!

Cinematic in the extreme, it may be that a new career may be beckoning. As the sound of several doors creaking ajar beckons, the question arises – will the next set of ‘songs’ follow suit and be of a more expansive nature? The positive responses to Mute that are starting to appear might suggest that we can maybe exercise some cautious optimism. This labour of love sees the partnership living up to their name and at their most orchestral.

Meanwhile, I’m heading back (to Earth, of course) to the stately majesty of that minute and a half of life reaffirmation.

Here’s a trailer for Mute:

The Blackheart Orchestra online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Bandcamp / Instagram 

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