Jo Quail – The Cartographer: Album Review

Jo Quail crafts another set of evocative pieces on the meisterwork that is The Cartographer.

Release Date: 6th May 2022

Label: Bandcamp

Format: CD / Digital / Vinyl

Having witnessed the Jo Quail phenomenon as a prelude to the magnificent Wardruna experience at Manchester’s Albert Hall, the prospect of The Cartographer is much anticipated. Early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and brimming with praise. Bandwagon jumpers we may be but there’s no way we’re going to be deliberately contrary in lavishing anything but rose-tinted acclaim on such an outstanding piece of atmospheric and creativemusic.

First things first though, and to echo Jo’s own comments on the particularly dramatic cover art by David Rooney. Exactly the type of creation that would have some of us simply buying the album just because of the sleeve. And for once you can judge the contents by the cover. Dark and foreboding. Ominous and oppressive. Not going to lie, sometimes it’s pretty scary.

The Cartographer is a piece commissioned by the Roadburn Festival, designed to showcase the crossover between classical and heavy music – heavy classical you might call it. In other words, the forte of Jo Quail. Indeed the opening sound of the crash of a gong conjures up the iconic Rank Organisation intro. Add an ominous drone and spoken word passage and it’s all very atmospheric as Jo makes her entrance. The haunting mood kicks in immediately. In the blink of an eye you;re transported to a dark, dark place. And it’s not the jokey one where some skeletons lived (Funnybones anyone?). Tread very carefully and look around every corner.

To be fair, Movement 1 turns in a satisfyingly gentle introduction. Movement 2 gets serious. Distant echoes and a grander orchestral arrangement announces something imminent. Vying with bouts of hld-your-breath atmospheres, he sense that something, but we don;t know what, is about to emerge, comes in the form of a combination of aching and shimmering strings and choral voices, building to a restarined cacophony that concludes Movement 2.

Fifteen minutes of Movement 3 ventures further into more grandiose arrangements. The disturbing vocal moans that drift in and out eventually lead to a potent brass interlude amidst the crashes, slams and distant echoes of dissonant voices. Cinematic may be the term, but the passage reeks of the soundtrack to gaming and creeping through deserted and desolate industrial and dyspotian landscapes with the constant presence of an impending threat. Taking the ambient soundscape theme to another level. Perhaps the most impressive, as well as the longest, of the movements. One for the thrillseekers, the suspense inducing a choking pananoia . Phew!

It may be that the final two movements come as light relief. The now familiar sound of subterranean claustrophobia precedes a hypnotic underlying swirl (think the annoying hum of wasps) topped with restrained stabs of brass, drives Movement 4. Restrained power is the theme of Movement 5 withe the hint of distant voices again as the breeze carries a Celtic theme towards the closure. Phew! Again.

A constant sense of being on the edge of the seat wondering what’ s coming next and where we’re about to be taken

Here’s a bit of audience footage from the finale of The Cartographer’s debut live performance at Roadburn 2022:

Jo Quail online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

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