The city of Salem, Massachusetts has long provoked thoughts of the esoteric in the minds of those with a basic grasp of early American history. At the risk of stating the obvious, having long been associated with the eponymous Witch Trials, the city acts as fertile soil from which a musically explorative art rock band like 1476 can propagate. Meshing together a variety of sonic styles and tones in pursuit of capturing the essence of New England’s ‘aura’ or character, the two-piece band continues to reinvent itself with each release. Such is the case with Wildwood / The Nightside—a reissue of their 2012 album and EP spliced together as a single artistic entry.
Throughout their work, 1476 harbour a sombre tone irrespective of whichever musical style they choose to engage in. Their debut release, 2010’s Smoke in the Sky, delivers a subdued, earthy form of neofolk with progressive rock permutations reminiscent of the gloomier ‘Canterbury scene’ bands of the late sixties and early seventies. On Wildwood / The Nightside, 1476 beef up their sound with some added electronic instrumentation and a heftier production, establishing a certain musical kinship with the modern, forward-thinking approach to songwriting of neo-prog bands like Pendragon. The result is a far more substantial beast than its predecessor in terms of both sonic heaviness and creative ingenuity, yet it maintains the rather dour veneer which lends the band its identity.
What distinguishes 1476 from their ‘art rock’ peers is a certain commitment to a lightness of touch in the production department. Though it showcases a greater presence of electronic instrumentation than its predecessor, Wildwood maintains a distinctly earthy tone which permeates through each stylistic slant the band takes. ‘Shoreless’ may be a dead-ringer for the current post-metal trend, albeit a folkier one, but what it shares with the hard rock punch of ‘The Dagger’ and spindly post-punk attitude on ‘Stave-Fire’ is a bare-bones approach to studio tinkering. The album is well-recorded and mixed, but it becomes obvious that 1476 pressed the ‘record’ button, hammered out the music, and added very little after that, save some rather clunky female narration.
A potentially controversial comparison perhaps, but certain sections of Wildwood / The Nightside rather remarkably echo some of Elvenking’s softer material. This is particularly evident in the faster tracks like ‘Horse Dysphoria’, with its pounding drums and singalong vocal lines, and ‘Watchers’, whose chorus is one chugging guitar riff away from traditional power metal. Though 1476 are inarguably less metallic and overproduced than their catchy Italian counterparts, both bands harbour a similar use of folk instrumentation used in tandem with loud yet undistorted guitars.
1476 describe the album as, ‘a commentary on human nature’, and although Wildwood lacks an overt or specific message, its philosophical outlook is clear: This is a paean to a simpler world. A majority of the lyrical content centres around the natural realm, where rural landscapes and coastal regions are eulogised along with the beasts they home. The geographical background of Salem, coupled with the historical New England Puritan reliance on the soil for spiritual and physical nourishment, underscores the rustic nature of the music itself.
The Nightside’s four songs were recorded during the Wildwood album sessions, and although they represent a broadly similar vibe and structure to the album tracks, their comparatively less polished production harkens back to their earlier Smoke in the Sky project. Grouping The Nightside together with Wildwood only goes to highlight the supremacy of the latter, underlining the fact that, despite the band’s sincere pursuit of a ‘natural’ sound, they understand the distinction between an organic, earthy production and a rough demo.
Wildwood / The Nightside is far from perfect. The semi-frequent narration is awkward, and certain songs have a habit of dragging on. But it remains a curious record in both senses of the term: 1476 are continuing to develop their sound through repeated experimentation, dipping their fingers into a multitude of musical pies without landing decisively on a specific flavour for any length of time. While not quite magic, 1476 are clearly capable of truly enchanting listeners with future projects.
Disc I: Wildwood
01) Black Cross/Death Rune
03) The Dagger
04) Banners in Bohemia
05) Good Morning, Blackbird
06) Horse Dysphoria
08) Bohemian Spires
09) An Atrophy Trophy
11) The Golden Alchemy
Disc II: The Nightside
01) Mutable : Cardinal
02) Know Thyself, Dandy
03) Good Morning, Blackbird (Alternate Version)
04) The Nightside