Time and place can play such an important role when it comes to music.
For me Geasa’s ‘Starside’ demo is one such release, bound for ever in my mind to a time as an eager and excitable fourteen year old, I felt I was dashing bravely into the unknown.
Every time I listen to it- usually around this time of year when the cold weather and diminished daylight really start to make themselves felt- it transports me back to the day I picked it up in that famous Dublin institution, Sound Cellar.
It was my first demo purchase, no doubt bought on a whim with the few pound I had left over from buying the latest Sepul-tones-tera-head CD. Ironically, it is the one that has gone the distance, even if the band themselves never did.
As a first tentative step into the local metal scene it was a step in the right direction and one that unwittingly led me down the path of more obscure and underground music that I still travel today. Not bad for a fiver!
It was only on this release that I felt that the band really captured a cohesive and uncompromised vision as each subsequent release seemed to stumble aimlessly around trying to capture something, anything, occasionally hitting the mark as on much of ‘Fate’s Lost Son’, but more often falling flat.
Still, the various subsequent missteps can’t take away from the singular frosty atmosphere they created on this great demo. The lyrics conjure romantic and cold visions of undead airborne beings soaring across vast frozen landscapes.
Imagine if the Christmas film The Snowman was a lot more morbid. That’s the sort of image I see when listening to ‘Starside’, as inappropriate as it surely sounds.
The production is perfect, which is not something that can be said of a lot of local demos from around the nineties when bands were more often charged through the nose only to end up with a clunky, shoddily mixed mess by a disinterested chancer- anyone who recorded anything in the nineties won’t need to be told, but ‘Starside’ is a revelation.
The playing is assured and confident, the production is raw in the way that so many lesser bands aim for and fumble, the lyrics all work to enhance the atmosphere, the fantastic astral keyboards haven’t aged a day and add a transportative value to the journey.
The drums are warm and full, the guitars are ice cold and clear and the blasted vocals sit nicely to the fore. It’s just so accomplished on all fronts.
The somewhat clumsy artwork even goes some way in capturing the essence of the music with its predominantly white depiction of a moon-lit lake. Maybe it’s simply because it has become so ingrained as part of the whole experience for me over the years, but I think it works well.
The music is essentially old school Norse black metal with a few un-intrusive Celticisms. The bodhrán intro, for example, could very easily have been a bit O’Carrolls; rather it somehow evokes an image of a large crackling bonfire in my mind’s eye. Dare I mention the word ritual? I suppose I just did.
The effect was evocative of some sort of pagan seance. Without any real understanding of these things I was happy to simply allow those vague, primordial images to float across my mind’s eye, heightening the whole experience.
In some ways it was the planting of the seed that eventually blossomed into an appreciation for more abstract ideas like music having ‘atmosphere’ beyond the limits of simply being melody, or pounding heaviness. The notion of music as invocation or evocation continues to be an important factor in my listening to this day.
At the time my knowledge and understanding of black metal was limited to a small handful of bands and the association I always made at the time was with Emperor. In some respects it seems way off the mark to me now but I can kind of see where I was going with it. In terms of the overall cold and wintry atmosphere that paralleled ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’ there is some sense to be derived; there’s an atmosphere of chilly decay that both recordings share.
The songs are at once sweeping, epic and evil, pretty much hitting the necro nail squarely on the head. Each riff has purpose and each song lodges in the brain, but it’s arguably the second side of the demo that bears the classics. ‘Warrior’, ‘Starside’ and ‘Rite of Passage’ are simply fantastic and highly memorable pieces of music, heaped with a fantastic and eerie mood and decked in strong imagery.
‘Striding toward a bloody cross’… ‘Fucking the lifeless daughter of light’. You get the picture.
What serendipity brought these characters together at this time to write and record such magic music we can never know, but it sadly wasn’t to last.
Member re-shuffles neutered the band before they really got going, with their debut album coming out on the renowned Season of Mist three years later before sinking like the creative stone that it certainly was.
What a shame. Still, if the band had only released this brief demo before disappearing into the night, their position within the small but respectable pantheon of legendary Irish metal bands would have still been secured.
While the likes of Primordial and Mourning Beloveth may have gone on to greater things both creatively and in terms of their exposure, Geasa, as ill-fated as they turned out to be, still manage to evoke a sense of mystery that can only be associated with the pre-internet world. ‘Starside’ stands as an equal, possibly as more than that, with the demo work of those bands.
What’s more if we work our way backward from the likes of Slidhr, Rebirth of Nefast or Altar of Plagues the journey will surely lead to this proud work.
A fluke, perhaps, but what a fluke. This timeless recording deserves to be heard by many more people than are ever likely to hear it. Who knows, maybe it will get a fancy re-release at some point and finally find some status beyond the borders of this Island. Maybe it will remain an overlooked gem.
If you have it already you’ll know its significance. If you haven’t heard it before I can’t recommend it enough.
A timeless classic.
– Andrew Cunningham ::: 05/12/16