The three years between iLIKETRAiNS's 2007 debut Elegies To Lessons Learnt and the present day could almost be a lifetime, such is the vastness of the chasm musically and lyrically between now and then. Since that album's release, the band have lost a member, parted company with their record label, streamlined their sound to within a whisper of the reverb drenched symphonies of yore and ditched the historical passages for more ambiguous references towards the present and future.
Even the recording process the band embarked on for He Who Saw The Deep took a drastic diversion from that of its predecessor and subsequent EPs, with the band choosing to seek refuge in a farmhouse on the Yorkshire Dales rather than a historical locale such as a derelict mill or deserted chapel, the sites where The Christmas Tree Ship and Elegies... were both respectively recorded.
Perhaps the biggest indigence here is that He Who Saw The Deep took so long to see the light of day at all, due in no small part to the difficulties the then label-less iLiKETRAiNS had in finding an imprint to release the record. Eventually, having taken the decision to set up one of their own (ILR), they then had to contend with the dilemma of distributing the thing, hence their involvement with Pledgemusic, the sponsor initiated venture that allowed the band's fans to fund the record by pledging donations for numerous limited edition variants on the album as well as several unique souvenirs (a game of Scrabble with bass player Alistair Bowis anyone?).
Fortunately, He Who Saw The Deep isn't reliant on any kind of gimmick or purchase incentive other than the 11 pieces of music contained within. On the surface it's a more stripped down affair than iLiKETRAiNS' previous works, the only instantly recognisable element being David Martin's instantly recognisable baritone. Although in the past the band have (perhaps lazily) been shoved in the post-rock corner, there's little evidence of any compatibility with such a genre here, the record instead offering a more sedative and reflective collection than Elegies... or any of their earlier singles like 'Terra Nova' or 'A Rook House For Bobby'.
The first few chords of opener 'When We Were Kings' are eerily reminiscent of someone like The Boxer Rebellion, chiming guitars eating away at the song's core as Martin's vocal, deceptively low in the mix, solemnly declares "I want to believe in you". Things take an even more unexpected twist on 'A Father's Son', Simon Fogal's twitchy drumbeat seemingly inspired by Fleetwood Mac's 'Big Love' before a probing bassline prods and pokes, Martin's mournful observations reaching their pinnacle as a defiant "We escape when our time is up!" leads the song to its close.
There's very little here that compares directly to any of iLiKETRAiNS' earlier work, although 'We Saw The Deep' embarks on a similar folk path to 'The Voice Of Reason', albeit minus the crushing halo of delay infused white noise. 'Hope Is Not Enough' continues the melodramatic theme, Martin urging "Breathe in, breathe out, breathe deep" as the song builds to an assertive finale. 'Progress Is A Snake' takes the introspective route a little more obtusely, almost mirroring Interpol's 'Take You On A Cruise' for narrative dynamics.
Live favourite 'Sirens', one of the oldest pieces here (having made its debut during the summer festival season of 2009) sounds out of place in these surroundings, almost as if its mere existence stands as a blueprint for transition rather than a creative masterpiece heralding a new direction. 'These Feet Of Clay' is actually the first time the band resort to their trademark guitar sound, Fogal's percussive death march punctuating Guy Bannister's FX pedal musings with an almost military precision.
An extended take on former single 'Sea Of Regrets' clocks in at a mammoth eight minutes in its elongated form; while emphasising the song's epic status, it adds little of note to its six minute 45 RPM cousin. The closing trio of 'Broken Bones', 'A Divorce Before Marriage' and 'Doves' work as an inseparable, complete body of work, the songs molding into each other effortlessly. If Dave Martin's wistful observation highlights 'Broken Bones's more prudent sentiments ("The higher we climb, the further we have to fall"), then 'A Divorce...'s passive melody echoes Sigur Ros in lullaby mode, culminating in 'Doves's rueful conclusion ("We took our chances and now they're gone").
On the whole, He Who Saw The Deep is a sturdy representation of iLiKETRAiNS' progression as songwriters and arrangers, even if it doesn't quite carrying the intensity or immediacy of the endearing Progress Reform compilation that signalled their arrival in dramatic style. Their next venture will be crucial, yet the adventurous nature of this record, coupled with a relentless desire to succeed, suggests their crowning glory may still be to come.
7Dom Gourlay's Score