There’s something stately and haunting about Missionary Work’s new album The Ash Tree. Renato Montenegro has built an ornate castle of sound that is part parlor music, baroque Gothic, and classical music from beyond the grave. Music to accompany M.R. James’ tale of the same name, the harpsichord melodies intertwine with haunting synth and regal choir arrangements to give us an album that feels as if transmitted from the English countryside. Or from some shadow realm that mirrors our own, only more sinister; broken even.
I feel like attempting to explain this record will only go to temper some of its dark magic. M.R. James tale has to to do with witches, paranoia, fearing the unexplained, and ultimately things to truly fear in the dark. Missionary Work goes a long way to give this tale a proper musical companion, capturing the retro-futuristic spirit of Wendy Carlos and Mort Garson. While at the same time adding a spaced out feel with otherworldly synths that bubble just under the surface.
Songs like “Praeludium”, “Sir Richard and the Ash Tree”, and “A Ponderous Walk By The Treeline” give the feeling of walking on wooded paths through 16th century England as leaves fall from old shade trees. They’re exquisite, haunting, and color the mind with overcast skies and languishing villages.
There are also gorgeous choir arrangements that add to the Gothic undertones. “Thou Shall Seek Me In The Morning” is a glorious, shining example of the Missionary Work Tabernacle Choir. Haunted, evocative, and dark like a psychedelic fever dream, this song sums up the overall mood of The Ash Tree. Tempered madness, wrapped in a blanket of sordid, pained beauty.
Missionary Work’s The Ash Tree is a record made for this time of year. It evokes dark emotion, conviction, and just the right amount of madness.
8.4 out of 10
‘The Ash Tree’ is available now via Library of the Occult. Buy it here.