Track By Track: Solstice Coil - Natural Causes

By John A. Wilcox

Solstice Coil is an alterna-prog rock band from Israel, formed in late 2001. Take a pinch of Porcupine Tree, a dash of Muse, a sprinkle of King Crimson, and a big slab of originality, mix well, and you get an inkling of their sound. Natural Causes is the band's follow up to 2005's A Prescription for Paper Cuts. Solstice Coil are: Shir Deutch (lead vocals and guitars), Opher Vishnia (lead guitars and effects), Shai Yallin (keyboards and pianos), Yaniv Shalev (bass guitar), and Yaztiv Caspi (drums). Progsheet asked Deutch and Yallin to take us through the album track by track...

Track 1 & 2: Question Irrelevant / Outcome Inevitable
SD: These two tracks constitute the opening piece to Natural Causes, and have also served as the opening number to many of our live shows. The lyrics were written by Opher, and the song speaks about dealing with a sticky situation, realizing you're in a bad place and finding your way out of it. After the guitar solo, the song flows into an instrumental, which is in fact Outcome Inevitable. It starts off with a soft circus-like mood, which later bursts into a heavy riff explosion � la Opeth.

The cover of Natural Causes includes images and symbols derived from the lyrics, and this track in particular has many references in the cover. Look for the wolf, the walking fingers, the cryophyte, the snowing man, and of course, the heart.

Track 3: Fall Schedules
SD: I wrote this track, but the transformation it has undergone from the initial sketch to the final version is immense. Originally, the verse had an annoying jittery rhythm guitar and a dissonant chord progression, which failed to support the etherealness of the chorus. We changed the chords and replaced the guitar with a smooth Rhodes line, and fixed up the melodies to make them more memorable.

Track 4: I Know
SD: This was probably the hardest song to mix, as it contains so much information towards the end and balancing all the vocals and instrumentals was a real pain. Erez Caspi of Bardo Studios provided substantial assistance when mixing this song; he lent his us his vast experience in the field and was able to guide us through picking the correct levels and frequencies that provided each instrument with the appropriate focus it deserved.

This song is somewhat exceptional in our repertoire, as it contains rather low vocals through most of the song and is partly influenced by Bloc Party, a band we are usually not associated with.

Track 5: Human Again
SD: The first song ever to be released by Solstice Coil that can actually count as a "love song". Actually, this is a breakup song that depicts a situation where you're not on the same page as your counterpart in a relationship, and while they are making plans for the future, you're considering opting out. I originally did not intend this song to go to Solstice Coil because I was concerned it did not fit the style that we had set for ourselves. Fortunately, the guys liked it and consequently it allowed us to expand our musical and lyrical range for the entire album.

Track 6: Singalong Deathtrap
SD: This song is also a product of creative cooperation. Opher had a groovy guitar line he laid down while Shai had a mellow chord progression on Fender Rhodes he recorded. I suggested they'd combine the two. Opher wrote the lyrics, which we revised together several times until we were satisfied with the result. Every melody line here was carefully scrutinized, as matching the lyrics to the music was quite a challenge. The track is heavily influenced by Mew and Pink Floyd. Opher programmed an insanely spastic rhythm section, and after playing the song numerous times in rehearsals and in shows, Yatziv managed to mold the original drum-extravaganza into something that made more sense. The bass line pretty much stayed the same, though...

Track 7: Walking Graveyards
SD: A song about disregarding undeniable truths in order to get you through the day, and pretending to be able to overcome the restrains of society. Though it might sound simpler than other songs, this Porcupine Tree-influenced piece includes many layers of guitars, some of which I recorded at home during my pre-home studio days (i.e. with an onboard soundcard). It should be noted that while the line "We are all walking graveyards" might imply support for vegetarianism, this is definitely not the case. Everyone in the band is a cheerful meat-eater; this line does, however, acknowledge the fact that life feeds on life, and that one has to accept this fact.

Track 8: Too Many Regrets
SD: The original title for this song was The Upkeep Keeper, but eventually we changed it because, well, it was just silly. This is probably the most musically complex song on the album and perhaps in our entire catalogue so far. The final instrumental (which comes just before the final guitar solo near the final chorus), to which we refer as "the complicated part", was completely different in the original composition, and was basically comprised out of different paraphrases of the fast chromatic riff that appears at the top and the bottom of the instrumental. Opher took the time signatures that existed in this part as a skeleton and completely rewrote the melodies and harmonies in midi. We spent many hours trying to actually play the parts, partly because some of them were polyrhythmic and difficult to nail but mostly because we had no idea how it would sound with real instruments. By the time we got to the studio, we'd managed to perfect it.

Track 9: Moral Oxidation
SD: When I first wrote this song it was meant to be a straight-forward alternative rock song with palm-muted guitars playing eights. I planned to gradually increase the dynamics as commonly practiced by Deus, particularly in their 1999 release The Ideal Crash, but I wasn't sure how to approach it. At the time the song was barely 2 minutes long. Opher reconstructed the song, adding a very groovy rhythm section and a powerful guitar based instrumental. Later Shai and Opher added an ambient instrumental, which developed slowly until returning to the previous instrumental. At the end we decided to revisit the line "can't say I asked for this, but now that it's here, I miss it even more", turning it into somewhat of a chorus.

Track 10: Replacing People
SD: This is a relatively unusual song in our repertoire, as it features an abundance of major chords and has a relatively jovial tone. I scored the string quartet and later Shai tweaked it to avoid undesirable dissonances and to fit it better to the rest of the instruments. I describe it as a romantic ballad for the deeply cynical.

SY: We wrote the scores for the string quartet without any real classical training. When it was time to record in the studio, it turned out that playing odd time signatures is not as natural to a string player as we had imagined. We ended up using half of our 4-hour session in the studio for rehearsing and making final changes to the score, and we ended up recording many takes before we finally got it right. Afterwards, the members of the string quartet noted that although the parts we wrote were very unorthodox and non-intuitive, they really enjoyed playing and recording them.

Track 11: Designed Instincts
SD: One of the more intense songs on the album, and probably the song with the highest repetition of choruses we've ever written. Musically, the song is influenced by Muse, Dream Theater and OneSideZero. Lyrically it is about the aftermath of a mentally abusive relationship.

Track 12: Recipe for Eternity
SD: Originally titled An Essence Recycled, this song has served as a closing number for our shows for quite some time. It also features a string quartet, with a score written by Shai. Opher had to work extra hard on writing the guitar solos for this song, and I think it paid off, as some of his most beautiful solos appear here. In concerts we actually perform the fadeout that appears in the recording, albeit with a twist.


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