The chances are that even if you don’t know Leila Abdul-Rauf by name; you have come across her guitar work and vocals with bands such as Amber Asylum, Vastum and Hammers Of Misfortune. This trio of disparate artists is bound by a unifying trait that is sheer unadulterated quality. That does not mean for one moment that as a fan of the brilliant, murky death metal found on San Fran horde Vastum’s Patricidal Lust you will automatically be interested in Isomnia, for there is nothing, save originality, quality, and integrity and of course Leila herself, that links the two. In fact it is quite some thought that the achingly beautiful, poignant content of this album has been created by the same hands that carved those monolithic guitar lines with Vastum.
If Insomnia were the soundtrack to a TV series then it would be a Scandinavian crime drama set in a remote Norwegian village, whose only connection with the rest of the country is via an old train line – such as the one displayed on the album’s incomparably downbeat and atmospheric cover, so aptly titled “The Slow Pass of Hours” by the talented hand of my good friend Mark Thompson. There are many moments that make the Scandi-crime analogy ring true, but none more so than ‘Wane’, which makes powerful use of Abdul-Rauf’s tristful trumpet playing. On the same track, Jan Hendrich and Ryan Honaker guest on the EBow and violin respectively adding texture and subtlety to a track that acts as the album’s centrepiece. The song conjures images of a haggard old detective who’s paid the price for his passion and mistakes by being sent to a backward village with little to do. He sits in a café drinking cold black coffee and scanning an old newspaper, looking for something…anything to ignite that flame that has driven him his whole life that is in danger of being left extinguished for the rest of his days. In fact, not since Terje Rypdal’s more explicitly noir, jazz guitar-led Crime Scene has an album affected me in such a manner.
Abdul-Rauf’s instrumental solo work is all about bottling those fragments of memories (or are they dreams?) that haunt us and threaten to crack open our perception of reality. There is no need to tie her compositions to any genre, nor in fact is this a possibility, such is the uniqueness and veracity of her vision. Slow, brooding soundscapes make a mockery of concepts of time and space as dictated by the laws of physics. Hers is a metaphysical reality and one in which I’ll never tire of being lost.
3rd-eye view 8.5/10