September Mourning is the gothic mixed media art project of Emily Lazar collaborating to an extent with comic book artist Mark Silvestri. One portion of that project is a rock band veering somewhere between goth rock and heavy metal. Emily plays the part of September with an expensive and beautiful ghostly costume used for live performances, but she is also the songwriter and vocalist. She stands out as an obvious auteur and has effectively built her own music and persona from scratch. Mark Silvestri writes comic books that expand on an entire story about fate, justice, good, and evil which fill in the character of September, but Emily’s music is more than capable of standing on its own.
While the comic books add depth to the character and form a fascinating and well drawn story which allows the entire project to emerge as a synthesis of words, images, and sounds, September Mourning as a band is a very distinct phenomenon to explore. The album, Volume II, gets its title from being preceded by the comic book story. So it is continuing and telling a larger story about September’s battle against fate, but as a musical work it stands out as very high quality and unique.
Notable at once is the sound of Emily’s voice reaching beautiful highs but stressing the midpoint in the mix so that she is blended a bit with the instruments and sounds somewhat ghostly. Her voice particularly has a way of sliding nicely against the guitar parts and captures an ethereal echo that very much fits the character she is portraying. The songs tend towards being very harmonious but also pose a strong contrast between dark and light as is typical of goth sounds and with sufficient aggression to qualify as heavy metal.
The way the songs fit together into a larger story and also stand up individually is a major accomplishment for September Mourning. Rock has always been filled with the paradox of concept albums being strong on ideas but having a hard time making individual songs stand out or sometimes falling under their own weight in an overly complicated execution. This album is taking that idea much further and is doing it with a great deal of success in making each song manage to stand out as its own highlight and clear statement.
The dispersion of music that has happened due to digital technology has generally left music commentary and criticism empty headed. As a proliferation of works has happened independently and across many genres, record companies have focused on small areas of music which are increasingly safe and derivative, while an expanding underground scene has produced a variety of exciting artists who do what they want artistically in exchange for the diminished income musicians deal with in the 21st century. Record companies have been relatively uninterested in looking for the best musicians, because they don’t make as much money as they used to and thus focus on reliable commercial sounds.
This means that when intelligent things happen, subgroups are more aware than mainstream commentators. In the case of September Mourning, the idea of the concept album that critics used to find so fascinating and worth expounding on has certainly gone much further than classic albums were able to accomplish. The character of September and her story of struggling against the injustices of fate gets full development not only in the album, but also in comic books and in some videos she has created for projection on stage. It is then explored with a story in the album, and the songs all manage to be successful both on their own and in the context of the entire work.
The story examines fate closely and presents the idea that innocent people are left with unfortunate fates that leave them destined to live in bad circumstances and to suffer injustices. Fate is essentially evil, and the character of September becomes a rebel against its injustices. She intervenes to save someone from wraiths who work on behalf of fate to take people when their life has been determined to be over. In a world of never ending mortality from which none of us are exempt, this is a compelling story, but it also leaves room for social commentary.
Many people are left with circumstances shaped by society which force them into negative situations. This frequently happens in America due to power structures which are designed to oppress people for the advantage of the wealthy. We find characters who are down on their luck and thus are supposed to die according to fate, but September won’t have it and decides to endanger herself for the sake of heroically stopping the hand of fate. This leads to her being pursued by fate and the wraiths, and we see this in the stage design as she dons a beautiful white outfit made of leather that is able to capture a nice glow from the dark stage lighting. She is surrounded by worn down looking malefic wraiths who play the instruments for Emily.
The songs are uniformly excellent on Volume II, and there are no obvious gaps or weak points. Skin and Bones stands out as a favorite of mine, and it captures the spiritual theme of consciousness being more than mere physicality yet something that is trapped within physical parameters. The skin of the song metaphorically stands out as an outward reflection of a persona shown to the world, while the bones point to what is left after death and the interior dimensions we seek to keep healthy during life. September Mourning is deeply gothic and constantly acknowledges the path out of life and into other planes of existence.
The cover art for the album is filled with symbolism of both the self as a part of the larger universe and of nirvana as we see light radiating from the head of September. Emily succeeds at singing with deep emotion and sometimes anger that emphasizes what is at stake in the larger story as well as the misfortune of humanity for being trapped within the narrow confines of fate. Angels to Dust shows this well as the song describes transcending physicality through destruction. “And in the end, when we’ve lost our only trust, we’ll turn from angels into dust, until there’s nothing, nothing left of us.” The song makes nihilistic loss of the self sound like transcendence into something higher. This correlates nicely with certain strands of Zen thought from Japan such as the work of Kenji Nishitani in which annihilation of selfhood allows for transcending average awareness.
The songs also capture the essence of humanity being more than physicality. Music is a beautiful medium for expressing this, because its lack of obvious physical parameters allows for a more thoughtful exploration of awareness itself and spiritual motifs. Before the Fall shows this very nicely with lines like, “No matter what comes of us, when we bleed we bleed the same.”
‘Til You See Heaven is a beautiful closer for the album that captures the message of the band very well. Descent is the fate of humanity, and the ruination of the world is inevitable due to its brokenness. So salvation is found in transcending this and escaping the mundane world such that death eventually becomes a passage rather than a negative fate and by finding light in the meantime. That does not mean mere physicality, and September represents this passage beautifully as she sings, “And when you close your eyes, you will feel paradise. You’ll see the brightest light. Stay with me.”