There are those records that, from the moment you hear them, you know they’re special. You are certain a particular album will play a major role in your life going forward, and that piece of music never will be too far away, no matter where you go. From my first experience with “No Help for the Mighty Ones,” the second effort by Utah’s Subrosa, I knew that I was in possession of one of the most pivotal albums of the year, and maybe even my life. It’s that good and that powerful an experience.
Added to what you get musically from this very dark metal unit is the symbolism and artwork that goes along with the record. As you’ll read in a moment, what you see on the cover and in the booklet is very much intertwined with the music. The cover is based on the Bluebelle tragedy in 1961, its incredible aftermath (look for a link to the story below as it’s too long to summarize here), the eventual violent demise of decorated war hero Julian Harvey, the perpetrator of the horrible murders aboard the ketch he captained, and Tere Jo Duperrault’s four days lost at sea. I didn’t know many of the details before I got this record, though I’d seen the famous “sea waif” photo of Tere Jo many times before, and reading up on the events certainly shed light on what lies in the many layers of “No Help.” The record isn’t entirely about those events, but thematically they do have a major presence. Actually, inside the booklet, there are specific inspirations listed for a few of the songs, in case you want to pursue the source material.
Aside from the philosophical elements, the statement of power structures and how they affect humankind, social and political commentary and of course what’s culled from Tere Jo’s sojourn that eventually led to her rescue in the Providence Channel, there is the sonic realm. The songs are richly melodic, gorgeously textured, booming with guitars and strings (teetering largely on doom and goth rock) and harsh and punishing when the need arises (check the throaty screams on “Beneath the Crown”). The music is heavily enrapturing, and even having listened to this album countless times in 2011, it hits me just as hard every time I go back. I feel like I’m on those black waves, drifting toward either rescue or demise, knowing that if I just hold on, I may find my strength again. Of course, what I go through on a daily basis is not nearly as harrowing as what Tere Jo faced, but the themes of perseverance still apply. This is a magical (and magikal) album through and through, and I hope it’s nearby as long as I live.
Guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon was kind enough to answer some questions about the album, how the artwork and symbolism tie into the whole picture and what the band has planned going forward.
Meat Mead Metal: “No Help for the Mighty Ones” was the first record in 2011 that really moved me emotionally, and I knew from the instant I heard it, it was going to be one of my go-to albums. Now that it’s been out for a while, how do you feel about its impact and the overall creative end result? Anything you’d do differently?
Rebecca Vernon: Thanks. I’m glad that it struck a chord with you. There were only two technicalities I wish I could change about the album, and that is making the plucked violins in the verses of the “The Inheritance” louder and adding an extra harmony part to the chorus of (the song). I feel satisfied with the way it came out after we finished it, like the album captured what we intended it to. And of course, it has been nice to see it appearing on some year-end lists and having other people feel what we felt when we created it.
However, now that it’s complete, I do feel the urge to move in a new musical direction. I would like to make the next album more lush, more unpredictable, and more emotional, but no less heavy.
MMM: On a personal level, what is your connection with “No Help”?
RV: It’s always hard for me to see people in powerful positions in government and other institutions abuse power and oppress those they are supposed to serve. Music is my way of expressing the outrage I feel at what’s wrong with the world. A couple of the songs are more about me personally, like “Dark Country.”
MMM: While the band’s music certainly has its doomy, heavy, murky sections, there also is great beauty and mystique with the bulk of the vocals and the sweeping (and certainly more present) string work. How important is having both light and dark elements in your music? Or do you see things differently than how I perceive them?
RV: No, you’re right. There’s a certain blunt heaviness in the riffs, mixed with the delicate violin melodies, emotional melodic parts mixed with dark atmosphere. There are contradictions and contrast there. And I guess it’s strange that I sing about serious topics, and the music itself is dark, yet the main feeling I want people to take away from listening to Subrosa’s music is strength. I just don’t think you can become strong without going through and understanding a lot of pain.
MMM: “No Help” is just a gripping visually. The Glyn Smyth/Scrawled Design work not only is incredible to look at and tells the tale of the lost girl at sea on the cover but it also packed with other meanings. Were you hoping listeners would dig deeper into symbolism? Do you feel understanding the artwork gives you a deeper experience with the music, or is one not dependent on the other?
RV: No, they are completely intertwined. The story that inspired the artwork is pretty much a sum-up of what the whole album is about, and the title “No Help for the Mighty Ones.” The other symbols, of Leviathan, The Earth, the Triangle of Manifestation on the back, etc., all those symbols tie in with the theme, too. The story, though, is the focal point of the artwork. You’ve probably read the story about Tere Jo already, but the reason her story applies to this album specifically is that it blew my mind that an 11-year-old girl had the power to make an adult man kill himself because of the truth that she carried. Not only did she have the power to damn him in front of an earthly tribunal, but she was like his dead conscience resurrected from the ocean he’d thought he could bury it in. There was no help for that mighty one.
MMM: Your cover of folk song “House Carpenter” certainly is a curve ball. Is that an important musical element for the band to mix in with the heaviness?
RV: We did an acapella folk-ballad piece on our first release, “The Worm Has Turned,” called “Mirror.” There’s also an acoustic folk song on “Strega” called “Isaac.” There’s always been this element of folk music that I’ve really latched onto and kind of made a part of Subrosa’s music. “Whippoorwill” is also a song that’s a good example of that. I always thought I hated folk music before Subrosa, but really, I think I must be a sucker for it. It really resonates with me, it’s so sorrowful and real. “House Carpenter,” by the way, is a traditional Irish/English folk song. It’s the first cover we’ve ever done.
MMM: What does the band have planned in 2012? Are you thinking of a new record yet? Do you plan to continue your relationship with Profound Lore?
RV: I would love to continue Subrosa’s relationship with Profound Lore if they want to continue their relationship with Subrosa. I am going to start work on the new record in the next month, and will probably be working on that the first half of 2012.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/SubrosaUSA?sk=info
To buy “No Help for the Mighty Ones,” go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=detail&id=718&Itemid=99999999
For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/
To read a Wikipedia entry about the Bluebelle incident, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluebelle_(ship)
For a book on the events, go here: http://www.amazon.com/Alone-Orphaned-Ocean-Richard-Logan/dp/0425242080/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1325629044&sr=8-1