Coming from Switzerland, Soldat Hans bring forth their first release, Dress Rehearsal. The title itself is quite curious, almost as if they are saying that the band is actually just in the rehearsal/preparation stage of what is to come. The five-piece downtempo band finds itself on an interesting trajectory between doom, folk and dark jazz, all the elements of which are presented in the most fitting way in the four long songs of the album (the shortest track is about thirteen minutes.)
The slow progression and the vibe of the opening track, “Meine Liebste; Sie zerbricht sich,” gives away the allure of Soldat Hans for a darker sound. The dark jazz influences bring to mind acts such as Bohren & der Club of Gore, even though the overall approach of Soldat Hans differs a fair bit. The way the songs are structured can at times retain that minimalistic style, as is the case with “Esthere,” and other moments turn to the dark sound of the opening track, something that also occurs in “Zikueth! Zikueth!” and the closing track of the album.
But despite the darker sound, Soldat Hans present an emotional offering. The opening track manages to bring forth this outlook from the band with the slow pace and amazing keys contributing to that aspect as well. The clean guitars and drums in the second half of the song further enhance that aspect, as do the more delicate melodies of “Esthere.” But the peak is reached with “Zikueth! Zikueth!” which for most of its duration is an emotive dreamscape with the vocals on the spotlight, something that does not happen often in the music of Soldat Hans, and awakens an unearthly aura for the track.
What Soldat Hans solidify with all this is a strong ambiance that accompanies the album. The slow pace of the opening songs bring a more depressing and almost funeral-esque (but not as gloomy) atmosphere, while the spookier parts are always just a step away in “Liefdesgrot” and “Esthere,” giving rise to some very mysterious and enigmatic moments. And when the things get on the more relaxed dark jazz mood, then the whole soundscape can get dark very quickly.
Dress Rehearsal is a cathartic album, and when Soldat Hans are going for a more intense sound they turn towards doom and really nail it. Parts of the opening song bring in the first taste of Soldat Hans’ doom, filled with horror-y effects on the background and with a trippy vibe to it, getting even heavier as the track progresses and the cymbal hits, repeating relentlessly as the piercing guitar feedback joins in. The doom riffs of the closing track have a nice folky twist about them and the perfect storm of heavy riffs that occurs in “Esthere” reaches torturous extremes, while alongside all this, the sludge-oid vocals fit perfectly. Even “Zikueth! Zikueth!” explodes in a doom outbreak at the very end, showing how much the band relies on that type of sound to unleash their more impactful moments.
Soldat Hans combine these sounds in a way that makes perfect sense. The progression of their tracks is flawless, knowing when they need to turn towards the dark jazz chill, the folky ambiance or the doom tones. Since this is just the “rehearsal,” it will be very interesting to see what they can do for the actual “performance” when that comes along. And I, for one, cannot wait for that.