‘Witch House’ seems an apt genre for the likes of Salem. Dark electronic noise runs through the albums very core. The album opens ambitiously with the title track King Night – sounding like a rave in a cathedral, an electronic Sun O))), the deep bassy layers setting up an album of sonic landscapes covered with snow, moulding the gothic beauty of King Night.
King Night is certainly not for everyone, which is strange given a record of so many influences. At best Salem come across as a mix between M83, and an Angelo Badalamenti score creating sombre frost bitten soundscapes with ethereal vocals peppered throughout the record providing the LP with a grandiose nature that was unexpected from the group who gave us the Yes I Smoke Crack EP. King Night harbours dub drum beats throughout, as well as the odd IDM pounding filling up the bars when needed. The percussion is the centre piece driving the ambience into something new and exciting – from the Aphex Twin-esque palpitations, to the Throbbing Gristle like industrial clangs King Night seems oddly danceable in a way the EPs prior were not. Tracks like ‘Trapdoor’ aren’t going to be club hits, but the beats reminiscent of a Kode9 track mixed with Massive Attack at their darkest summon movement. King Night is also laden with songs that demand listener attention, more nuanced moments, for example ‘Redlights’, are achingly beautiful, even when the album moves into more dubstep orientated arenas: ‘Hound’ for instance proving there is still an instinctively sombre core that taps into a well of emotion in a way many acts in the dubstep genre cannot. It is an odd experience to channel the likes of Psychic TV through a dub beat, but somehow Salem pull it off with ease.
Sadly the record isn’t perfect, and it pains me to say that, because when it is good it is phenomenal. Several tracks are ruined by an atonal rap placed over the top of a beautiful soundscape. The rap is fine on the less ambient songs, but just sounds out of place on something serene. Imagine someone rapping over Brian Eno’s ‘Ending (Ascent)’ and you get the picture. The mood evaporates. It is a shame it isn’t such a minor gripe either, because the tracks underneath the vocals are all exceptional, and it turns a couple of them into mere filler, ‘Tair’ being a perfect example.
But ultimately King Night is a very accomplished debut. Album closer ‘Killer’ sounds like Ride with lashings of sonic fuzz flowing over the top – whirling into something too big for the record to contain – and then silence hits, and it is all over, and while some moments can take you out of Salem’s dark world, while immersed in it King Night is a compelling piece of work, that with a few tweaks could have been one of 2010’s greats.