Τετάρτη, 17 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Wintersun - Time I (2012)

Wintersun is a band that, in a way, didn't actually need to release another album past their first one. It belongs to this small number of bands/musicians that wrote a magnum opus, a 9th symphony, straight from the beginning. Jari could have rejoined Ensiferum or made other, easier (and faster!) projects that would have sustained him as a professional musician, leaving this album as a single offering of excellence and a producer of eternal fame. Instead, he's been struggling for over than 6 years to come with the sophomore album, striving to widen and perfect even further his vision; for that alone, he is a hero of some kind. There is no epitome of perfection in the world and even "Wintersun" has pretty obvious faults and weaknesses that might make one think "what if..?" However, it is a rational "what if" in the aftermath of a total spiritual success. With great and complex music such as Wintersun's, the threads of magic are not clearly discernible and one playing with them risks a lot. For every solution two other problems might occur, for every "fault" that is fixed an emotion might be subdued. Jari seems to have understood that. Time, coupled with patience is certainly the greatest advisor. 

"Time I" is an album that expands in many directions beginning from the debut, however the question is; does it stem from a similarly vibrant source of inspiration? Surprisingly, it also features even more obvious faults than the first one on the production side, that sometimes detract from the listening experience. Jari has took up the production and mixing himself in this record, a decision I applaud as it is the best option for composers of complex and elaborate music, as its nuances can hardly be understood by anyone except the composer himself. However, some of his decisions are peculiar (and they certainly are pure artistic decisions, he sure had all the Time in the world not to miss anything). While I'm theoretically very positive to albums that sport a wide dynamic range, "Time I" features severe loudness fluctuation that makes me either jump from my chair or reach for the volume control. I imagine that, in the course of increasing orchestral influence, Jari wanted to give the dynamics of a symphonic orchestra to his heavy metal band. The problem is that it's not always done correctly, or that it is overdone, it seems as the instruments are squashed of their natural dynamics typically for a modern metal production and then programmed to the desirable; it feels unnatural at times, like you can see Jari's hand moving the faders. Also, the drums are unexpectedly buried in the mix and the bass is often untamed (perhaps unlike the majority of Wintersun fanbase, I don't see so many Hollywood blockbusters as to enjoy hearing an earthquake in the middle of a song). Negatives aside, the production is still much more powerful, atmospheric and expansive than "Wintersun", largely because of the bigger prominence of various layers of synths and effects. It is actually a very bold and original vision that, if perfected in Time part II, will be something totally unique to the metal world, in which the orchestra had been always subdued in the mix and conservatively used as another synth layer. For "I" though, I wish Jari had a professional mixing assistant (or an opinionated mastering engineer) in his side that would trim off some of the excesses. 

Let's go at last to the music. There are no great stylistic changes comparing to the debut, to put it bluntly and non-poetically, it seems like an orchestral, pimped-out-in-every-aspect version of it. This might sound bad, but in reality it is what everybody probably expected and wanted, and actually is an amazing feat of courage and inspiration. The album's intro, "When Time Fades Away" is a foray into the epic midi territory that is on the same level with the music of some of the best game composers out there (and perhaps there's even an influence from the Japanese ones). The first real song, "Sons of Winter and Sons" is almost like Wintersun passed through the bombast of the "300" soundtrack or these "Two Steps In Hell" guys. These horns are sure damn loud, but the essence of Wintersun's music does not lie there. It is in their glacial, pure as childlike wonder sense of melody and harmony, in its frantic and inspired progressions, in these amazing climaxes of emotion. Is any one these here?

After 2-3 listens, the mind begins to recover from the shock caused by all the bombast and begins to notice all the small details, the second and third voices/melodic lines, being able to really go along with the song as an active listener. The answer is: YES. "Sons of Winter and Sun" is a triumph for the band and will always go along "Starchild", "Winter Madness" and I dare yet say, "Way of The Fire" as one of their greatest magic spells. The level of complexity and density has risen, as there is no single guitar line without its counterpoint, while in the background there lies always an orchestral arrangement playing, a traditional Japanese flute, harps, female voices, choirs. The themes of the album hardly are presented with repetition as in typical heavy metal fashion, but are adorned with constant variation, leading into each other almost in enthusiastic hastiness, before one has a chance to fully absorb them (thanks Zeus for the replay button) - as the melodic vocals of Jari are this time more prominent, together with the virtual orchestra they take many melodic lines away from the guitars, so it makes sense to talk about themes rather than riffs in this album. "Son...” alternates between destructive anger, angst, beauty, mystery, powerful determination, awe, enlightenment. It goes directly to being one of the greatest heavy metal songs of history for me.

I never was a huge fan of the slow Wintersun songs, which says a lot about how much I love the fast ones. It perhaps has to do with Jari's background as a shredder, or that he simply needs more space to fit in his long evolving melodies, but to me, they are in the same level with Ensiferum's best songs, which is to say "just good" (Moonsorrow are the masters of slow and epic Finnish folkish metal, just so that you know). So when "Land of Snow and Sorrow" begins, my expectations are not the highest. It does not shatter them completely, but it manages to hold the album in a quality level. Here, the orchestral instrumentation backs off a bit and stays in the background as in the first album. Like the other slow songs in "Wintersun", it is almost mono-thematic and with the exception of the expected, but adventurous middle section (which reminded me a bit of Devin Townsend in the end, was curious to see if this influence would finally materialize) it is just nice to listen to. Even though I like the basic melody, one cannot expect to keep high interest by elaborating on it for so long, except if this one is Beethoven, say. Moderation isn't Jari's strongest point as a composer; however he's fighting it, understanding the need for a break in the intensity and pace of the album. In an eight-song album, this one wouldn't be a problem, but in this shortened to half 40-minute edition of Time, I feel I would have welcomed something stronger.

"Darkness and Frost" is a short, two-minute introduction to the brilliant basic melody of "Time" and should have been left as one track altogether, meaning I have the feeling they were divided rather than intended as separate tracks from the beginning (hey guys, some of my favorite metal albums are comprised of four tracks!) So, "Time", here we go; the same-titled track of the original intended album, assumably the stronger or among the 2-3 strongest tracks of both Time I & II, it is hereupon that you are judged (at least until the second offering). I'll cut the drama short, there is enough in the album; it's the second fucking triumph of the album. This song features some irritating loudness fluctuation as well so I had to put headphones in quite loud volume at this point, which seems to be the correct way to listen to this album (I can't say about monitors as I can't put them as high in my apartment, but oh Jari, I sure hope you didn't mix this way).

Get ready to be faced with endless layers of melody here, I am truly at a loss to describe the depth of emotion and the immensity presented. I will say that this song is perhaps his culmination as a composer as of yet. The song's also comprised of a small number of basic themes, but like the great classical composers, his treatment of them via massive orchestration and delicate counterpointing so masterful that one is swept by the flow, forgetting all about themes of structures or where exactly are we in the song, how long until it finishes and so on, living only in the Magical Now. Is this Wintersun's treatment against Time, to extinguish it, at least for the duration of this song? "Time fades away - you'll never be the same" - it seems like an obvious statement, probably juvenile in the context of the lyric sheet of a music album, at least for the "mature" or "tasteful" listeners, but Jari with his dramatic treatment returns to it the importance it deserves. Metal music doesn't need to use long words or Wittgenstein references in order to be philosophical, it just needs to address these eternal, simple questions with the immensity, conviction and depth that is needed for the listener to confront them and make them his/her own. "Time", the song, doesn't even need to burst into blastbeats or maniacal chord progressions to enchant us, the purity of its melodies, its glorious somberness suffices to lift up our souls into the skies. 

Probably Jari's greatest victory against time is that his music will be eternal, surely to be heard in the ages to come. Gustav Mahler has said "Nothing will stand the passing of time, except this which has been perfected upon in every detail". I don't know if this already has been the motto of Jari, but he sure works like he's known it forever. On the other hand, "Time I" is not entirely satisfying to listener, as it leaves one dry, ending at the moment the enthusiasm reaches its greatest peak. It doesn't really feel like an album, with its three songs and one intro and personally I will be ripping both albums and putting them in the same folder when "II" is hopefully released. I'm certain it will take about a year until I can really follow along to reach to the end without having it melt my brain, but until then it will at least feel better conceptually. Therefore, any attempt to make a comparison between the two albums should wait until then. It's also interesting to note that, for me at least, the essence of "Wintersun" lies in basically just four songs that transcend to reach the plane of divinity; with "Time I" I believe we already have two. 

The greatest thing with "Time" is that is transcends expectation, it shows that there can be hope against the law of mediocrity, that there are people who can rise into excellence more than once in their lifetime, that can face the destructive winds of Time and stand strong. But, hey Jari, don't just chill and rest yet, you've got a second part to deliver (and please, be extra careful with these faders!). The rating is just for Wintersun standards - there's absolutely no one else in their league. Oh, and remember to listen to this with good headphones - and loud, please. 


Δευτέρα, 1 Οκτωβρίου 2012

Dimmu Borgir - Enthrone Darkness Triumphant (1997)

If only metal musicians were educated, tasteful people with a wide knowledge and experience of the world around them. Heavy metal music would then be much more than this adolescent underground oddity with rare flashes of excellence; it would be a recognized musical genre, respected if not embraced by the majority of musically experienced people. Trying to make this happen is a phase many of us metalheads-with-good-taste go through, trying to transform metal itself by creative endeavors (musicians) or by pointing out the good elements to the said category and leaving out/critisizing the bad (journalists, record-label owners, etc).

This is surely one of the more critisized and shunned-upon records in the metal genre. Dimmu Borgir's carnivalesque, commercial and gothic-leaning, keyboard-laden works have for long been the laughing stock of supposedly serious, intelligent listeners. Their commercial success was at a time even considered a threat to the integrity of the black metal movement, with some pretty volatile and borderline-criminal insults thrown at them through various metal publications. Their music was thrown all-together to the trashcan as a pop-metal variation of bm. Obviously these reactions were pretty much reasonable; to put it simply and bluntly, Dimmu Borgir are idiots, as proven by their eternal oblivion as to the ridiculousness of their aesthetics and attitude. But what of the music? Surely it is a product of the same minds, but the musical mind is in fact not the same as the logical mind, as shown, for example, in savant musical geniuses or the self-destructiveness and madness in the personal lives of many brilliant musicians. 

If I had the time for it, I'd make an experiment. I'd upload this album with invented band and song titles, stolen artwork from somewhere else or even new lyrics (let's pretend Shagrath's vocal lines weren't as clear as they are) all assembled according to the aesthetics of currently considered "quality" acts. The "epic" and aggressive songs could be similar to Winterfylleth or Primordial, evoking a kind of elitist, "folk noir", pagan pride of resistance against modern decay and cultural extinction, or the "Luciferian Excellence" of various trippy, 70's inspired occult acts. The atmospheric songs would have a post-rockish, wide-landscape-immersion vibe similar to what matured, genre-transcending depressive/ambient bm bands do. I have a feeling that before someone has a chance to point out the obvious, many victims coming from the younger generation of literate, open-minded black metal fans will have been found, exhalting or trying to find more information on this cult new band.

Although I haven't really discovered so until lately, the music in this album is good. It is often kitschy, but not in a grander way than the kind of naiveté’ we have come to forgive in our favorite 70's rock or 80's heavy metal bands. It is not silly, and although it often seems overtly mellow and emotionally-patronizing in the way of AOR bands, it is all in the context of black metal thinking. If you can like Queensryche, it doesn't really make sense to hate this record (I'm talking about the mp3-without-images-without-lyrics kind of listening session here). And Dimmu Borgir is much more than Queensryche or a gothic-ballad band in this record, in fact they offer some excellent black metal along the way.

The distance between what the band claims to play and what the band actually plays had always been the root of all the fuzz. Enthrone Darkness Triumphant essentially is pretty much about light as it is about darkness. It is about beauty as it is about ugliness. Perhaps Enthrone Darkness Triumphant could even be one of the crowning jewels of Christian black metal in an alternate universe. There’s nothing tormenting in “In Death’s Embrace” music, but a sweetness that would be more easily interpreted as an eagerness to connect with a benevolent divinity, rather than the spit and piss in his sacred flesh that the lyrics mention. Dimmu Borgir is schizophrenic and almost totally incoherent if any kind of parallel course between the music and the outside context is followed by the listener. “Succubus in Rupture” does indeed convey a dark eroticism with a hint of tragedy for its first half, and then unfurls into one of the most elegiac, fragile, pure, white-light-surrounding-all moments heard in all metal. Not exactly my idea of the devil’s whore, more like the first time these guys touched hands with a girl in the flowery yard of elementary school.

Most other songs in the album are basically epic melodic metal songs that are closer to the early childlike wonder of Finnish bands such as moonsorrow or ensiferum. They are like full of joy and discovery for an ancient magical world. This is mostly a power metal album with hints of darkness, that more so depict a dynamic kind of struggle rather than misanthropic hatred.

Of course, this is not High Art. Music needs connecting threads with life, desires, ideologies, stuff stronger than escapism or carnivalesque grotesqueness. However, a creative mind should also train itself to fill in the gaps when it's needed. Metal music doesn't always has to have thoughtful lyrics and awe-inspiring visions; as with experimental, abstract music, it can be enough to only have a spark and a drive. The listener can provide the rest.


Τρίτη, 11 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

Artefact - Ruins (2008)

In my previous review of Darkenhöld's - A Passage to the Towers I mentioned that Aldebaran, although creating a series of very good albums, had never reached the focal point of excellence; getting back to Artefact's magnus opus, Ruins, I am forced happily to make a kind of renounciation. For me, "Ruins" is the best album in the Emperor/Dissection school of melodic/progressive/epic black metal, since "Storm of the Light's Bane" and "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk". Don't take this as an absolute statement though, as I can't say I have heard that many albums in that particular style. In fact, it remains that this album got minimum attention until now, except perhaps some positive reviews and a spot that was given to the band at that time in Wacken. 

I believe Artefact did a "mistake" here that made sure of the band's relative obscurity into the black metal circles. They got too progressive and complex for the ears of a black metal listener. Complexity into a Deathspell Omega record for instance is mostly in the fields of atonalism where no real sense of harmony exists, but an alternation of monochromatic, dissonant chords, which could be random in relation to one another and still create a similar kind of effect. Artefact however, are purely harmonic; harmony is like a straight line, if you get lost in the way there is no getting back. They are also quite technical on the rhythmical department and of course, like any black metal band that respects itself, speedy and rushing. In addition, there is not really a slow or simple song in the album, with the exception of some moments of brief rest here and there. The end result is a record that sounds overwhelming and mind-numbing from 3-4 songs and on. Professional producers always make sure to put slower, more atmospheric songs in an album of dense music, so as to make it be heard from beginning to end, to constitute a bigger, sum-is-greater-that-the-parts, experience, as did the classics with their symphonies, by the way (and to think how dismayed they would be by seeing modern audiences still last no more than a couple of minutes).

With "Ruins" there is also another defining characteristic; the first song of the album is obviously the better. The band seems to suggests us this itself, as there is a 7 minute piano rendition of it as the closing track, and the intro even plays with its basic themes in order to lead into it. Indeed, "Gargoyles Unleashed" is definitely the catchier song this band has ever produced. It leaves one breathless with its merciless exposition of epic and rough melodicism, running wild like, indeed, a storm of 1-tone pissed off flying creatures. It is the "Night's Blood" of the band, a song that will hopefully remain classic as an example of excellent black metal in the ages to come. While in Dissection's opus, however, follows "Unhallowed", a much simplier and melodic black metal song (and then even, the catchy hit, Where Angels Lie) here we have an even more complex, multifarious song, Medieval Ancestry, and it just goes on an on like that. I admit than in previous listenings I usually stopped after some songs, kind of frustrated, to relisten to "Gargoyles Unleashing" and finish the session, a probably criminal mistake. But this shows that albums like these should not be listened as a whole, but as 2-3 songs at a time, until one feels familiarized enough with the content to follow it all in one shot.

And indeed, with Ruins, this approach absolutely pays off. Medieval Ancestry sounds like an exploration into the mysterious and complex threads of history, alternating between anxious struggle and glorious discovery, between technical, thrashy riffs and melodically advanced black metal. It is too an absolutely fantastic song and a paragon for progressive black metal. After the vocal, monastery-sounding interlude of "Catharian Ruins" the onslaught continues with the Emperor-ian "Reverence" where the guitar fury begins from galloping techno-thrash to reach an emotional crescendo with " " shouting dramatically over an almost orchestral sounding arrangement. What is really formidable about this record is that even when it falls back into a relative melodic calmness such as "In the Fountain of the Enchantress", it does not allow its melodies to recieve a non-adventurous evolution. "Fountain" ends in a satisfied manner, in a major mode that might even remind some of fellow dreamers Alcest. "My Inner Sanctum" almost carries from there, indulging into romantic, twin evolving melodies. Synths join with guitar leads to portray audially sacral places of beauty amidst constant dynamic movement, like a forest of stubborn, ancient trees throughtout the violent changing of the seasons. An excellent instrumental that makes me think that Artefact could make a successful living creating music for rpg's if they wished. "Curse of the Wizard" totally crosses the line of accepted song titles and is probably the weaker song of the album, so off we go to "Stellar Winds" which is another highlight with its almost hollywood-sounding melodies (I think of John Williams when I say that, don't frown please) and progressive playfullness. "Finale" (yes, titles isn't exactly their strongest point) unfortunately doesn't impress much as it seems like a filler made out of rejected riffs. With an album of such density, 60 minutes is probably unnecessary and Artifact would do better if they had the courage to leave out one or two of the weakest songs. Of course, nowadays we can just leave them out the playlist, but in truth, less songs always means more attention to the better ones. Despite what it says, the album actually closes with the piano cover of Gargoyles Unleashing, called Gargoyles Rest (let's not mention titles again). It's pretty interesting that it transforms the song into a solist piece, but I would not listen to it many times. The jazz closing is cool though (a bit wtf, of course).

To be honest, Ruins obviously has its imperfections, and still after my re-assessment of its value, it seems slightly inconsistent. Especially the second half of the album (which is weaker) looks like it could be trimmed a little without serious repercutions. It total though, it is a great achievement that could be a point of reference for many musicians trying their way into the difficult and thorny pathways of ambitious, progressive black metal. I should admit though that I feel kind of sorry for these guys that the rest of the world doesn't think so. Especially when I know how difficult for one is to transcend or repeat his magnum opus (as they obviously haven't stopped making music) and that this opus is not even considered such by the majority of outward reality. In any way, I seriously hope that Artefact is one day reunited and give it another shot, or that Aldebaran will be able to reach the same amount of excellence with Darkenhöld.


Darkenhöld - A Passage to the Towers (2010)

Well composed, ambitious, labyrinthine black metal is one of the things I am constantly in search for. It's not that I've heard so many exemplars of this kind to end up growing addicted to it (Emperor, Dissection in the old days, Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord in the modern are some of these few) but it's more like, that I haven't. As Deathspell Omega have told, black metal seems like a big promise - its purpetrators seem to have hit a deep vein, but so far have only managed to scratch its surface. It seems reasonable to think that if these progenitors (speaking about bands such as Burzum or Darkthrone) have channelled such great energies with what seems to have been a punk, guttural, feral approach, then some intellectual, reflective, artistically endowed individual should be able to harness and shape them in order to materialize a much greater potential. It is a hypothesis that has seldom come into fruition - many modern approaches according to common belief seem to lack a spiritual substance -mostly honesty and willpower, which creates a popular, nowadays, view  that black metal is a thing of the subconscious, of the dark, and shouldn't be mixed with rational, clear-headed approaches.

Darkenhöld is the direct offspring of Artefact, a french band which has had a limited success in forging their own path of ambitious black metal, mainly with their 2008 album Ruins. Epic, melodic, elaborate, (hopelessly? )romantic in their medieval/fantasy obsessions, but also inconsistent compositionally in the sum of all parts, Artefact broke up after a crisis of identity that involved a modernization moreso of their image rather than their sound, under the perhaps, reflective title of "Failure", an ep of four songs. I was very interested when I discovered that Aldebaran, the main composer had started another band that whole-heartedly re-embraced the fantastical, medieval mythos. Personally, I always preferred metal as wild, unfettered, junevile fantasy rather then cold, austere realism. Not only because of the allure of escapism or poetic metaphor, but also because metalheads are usually introverts who more directly and boldly express themselves through simulated realities, exactly like rpg "nerds", apparently. I imagine Aldebaran sitting in his chair worried, thinking his ass about his next artistic incarnation, and suddenly bursting out "Fuck all that shit! I'm really all about fantasy metal, gargoyles and dragons and castles."

Darkenhöld are hardly subtle in their lyrical and pictorial references; as with Artefact, everything seems to have come off from a D&D campaign. While the titles are bereft of any significant meaning apart of setting a visual scenery, the music suggests much more. It is comprised of melodic, evolving riffs that twist and turn, alternating emotions during their course. Guitars and bass move in counterpoint without this ever turning into a gimmick and betraying the conception of the riff, with just enough variations to successfully imbue an aura of classical symphony to otherwise traditional heavy metal songwriting (also due to there being a greater reliance to black metal melodic devices comparing to heavier/speedier Artefact). This is music with intricacies that are overseen at first listenings (especially at low volumes), perhaps underestimated because of the seemingly cliched style, but mostly due to the density and interweavement of the ideas. Some melodies for instance need to be mentally followed actively and in conjunction with the harmonic structure underneath in order to make sense. The production, unlike a typical heavy metal sound, does not seem much interested in power but rather in clarity, which will also make this band a write-off for many. (By the way, I notice that the album becomes much more aggressive when I roll of some bass frequencies below 500 hz, it seems mastering could have been a little more daring). The music itself, or to be more correct, the esoteric impetus which lies behind its creation, is also unlike to typical black metal; it reaches for wonder, awe, beauty, majesticness. It definitely does not forfeit power, however it seems mostly oblivious of the rawer, harder side of life.. It is like an rpg session where you get the awe and wonder but none of the pain. While this not necessarily a problem, I feel that Darkenhold can better expand their vision by going into less safer passages, rather than further elaborating in their already much trodden ones. We should perhaps remember that the greatest experiences in life are in fact a mix of negativity and positivity, tragedy and hope, beauty and rawness.

I find "A Passage..." best at its fiercer, epic and more dynamic, like in the opener "Ghouls and the Tower" and the spectacular middle to end part of "Citadel of Obsidian Slumber", but not as good at the sometimes anemic turns its melodicism takes ("Cleaving the Ethereal Waves"). To be honest, it's hard to pick out songs as examples in this album, as most of them share a similar combination of elements, genre-wise and quality-wise; meaning that there are some defining strong moments, some ok-ish and also a couple that are a bit disappointing throughout the songs. To get back to what I have suggested in the first paragraph, Darkenhöld, together, of course,  with the majority of modern talented but unrecognized black metal bands, seem to be indeed missing something in comparison to the great makers or classic black metal. Its fortunately not honesty or passion here, and definitely not technicality and elaboration, but perhaps the artistic imagination or boldness to break boundaries of familiarity and expectedness. That there are no lyrics also doesn't help. There are bands such as Wolves in the Throne Room where the inclusion of a mediocre lyric would destroy an atmosphere that is so purely evocative and pictorial by its own. In Darkenhöld, it would be worth to try to provide the addition of another "dimension" to the imaginary wandering of the music, as it seems there is the space for it.  

This in an interesting band, as was Artefact, in that it is talented and ambitious enough to look up a level ahead and aim for perfection, but never quite getting there. It seems likely that Aldebaran is struggling hard to create an album that will become classic and lift off his band off from an underground status. "A Passage.." for all its merits is not yet that album, but funnily enough, I just saw an announcement for a preview of the next Darkenhöld album at some website as I had already begun writing this review. People that are persistent in their vision are admirable, and even though it may not now or ever be perfect, they deserve and claim attention rightfully. So, let's see what the future holds for Darkenhöld.


Δευτέρα, 20 Αυγούστου 2012

Mare Cognitum - An Extraconscious Lucidity (2012)

Here is a gem for these who dig deep into the mines of underground black metal, perhaps not a diamond yet, but a precious find nonetheless. This is the second album of US one-man band Mare Cognitum, an impressive display of blackened neo-melodicism of progressive expansions ala Krallice or Wolves in the Throne Room, deathmetal-ish dense micro-structures and ambiental/post rockish atmospheric reverberations. Opener "Collapse into Essence" grabs you by the neck and never lets you go during its 12 minutes. It starts with a steady, slow pulse like the distant breath of an intergalactic star, topped with "spacey" effects and a droning synth melody, like the musical description of a cosmogonic event, giving its way not after long (3 minutes actually, for bad ambient intros this is long) to the primordial, solitary sounding clean guitar melody that universally and for all metal proclaims "Here we fucking go, and this is going to be loud". It is indeed so; melodic, epic riffs building up in intensity until being unleashed into raging blastbeats, mostly simple but fully engaging, melodic but without losing edge and getting transformed into shoegaze mush. Which is the biggest problem with bands of similar aspirations (either they're from Cascadia or anywhere else), melody turning into flabby self-affirmation, going nowhere, hanging around in passivity. This is lustful of life, dynamic, pursuing change, expansion, journey. It is quite a challenge to write metal that elates the listener, well while staying metal and Mare Cognitum does a good job on finding that special intermediary point.

While the opener persists in the heavy and emotional atmosphere of cosmic yearning until its end, "Pyre of Ascendance" begins angrier and faster, retaining the melodicism but offering more violence in its way, like a kind of anxious anticipation of a dangerous necessity. The lyrics, all extremely well written, very visual and putting out a "sci-fi" feeling which perfectly goes along with the music speak something about transcendence through inhaling the ashes of a decadent god-race. "Degeneracy Pressure" is a melodic funereal song for a dying star, with tremolo played, reverbed guitar lines taking the lead in typical post rock fashion. Although this is a much simpler song that the two previous ones, it still manages to engage, due to the excellent mix and general production quality (provided by the composer himself) which brings out the atmosphere to the surface rather than the rumble. Noteworthy is also the well-sequenced and mixed drum machine, something that most bedroom black metal bands never seem to get right (not even Blut Aus Nord, for instance). The high pitched, reverbed rasp also found in many other bands of similar vein also does its part contributing to the atmosphere in the background.

"Nascency" and "Ergosphere" follow the melodic direction even further, this time getting even simpler in micro-structure, the riffs alternating between two guitar chords, basically providing background for the guitar leads. This is more like minimalist ambient black metal that is closer to slow orchestral movements in soundtracks or classical music rather than typical metal. It's a very interesting and original concept, and needs excellent melodic writing and mixing in order to work; it does for the most part, but in these two songs Mare Cognitum starts showing a slight compositional inconsistency, in that there feels that some elements could be added to loosen this continuous "sacrality" of the perfect, melodic riffs, to provide more dynamicness as in the first two tracks of the album. For those into minimalistic atmospheric writing though this might actually be heaven. The closer "Pulses in Extraconscious Ludicity" is bringing back the harshness and speed, with twin melodic guitar lines reminding me of swedish black metal like Dissection and Dawn. This I imagive to be an older track as it's not very close in style with the rest of the album. It's probably also the weaker,as it lacks this special feeling of immensity that characterizes the rest of the album.

This album shows a lot of potential for the future and since Mare Cognitum is such a young project with consistency in its output (two full lengths in two years) I think it's easy to say we should expect big things in the future. For now, "An Extraconscious Lucidity" is a really good album, with its only problem being that it doesn't quite fulfill the big expectations it creates with the first two songs, but still provides lots of excellent moments of progressive black metal mastery.

Elend - A World In Their Screams

To me, this is a black metal album. It carries within it one of the deepest and most vital characteristics of that music, which is the torment and awe of the human soul in encounter with forces well beyond its power and understanding. It is perhaps the only album I know of that explores consistently such a limited and particular theme or "feeling" in such multifarious and complex manner, while attempting (and succeeding) to engage the listener personally into experiencing it firsthand.

Outwardly, one could lump the album in several categories according to specific elements of its sound. Cinematic, darkwave, modern classical, industrial, electroacoustic. These are all superficial categorisations that don't do much other than giving one a general impression of the sound or aesthetic, and, in this case, completely fail to intrude into the crux of the matter, the inner drive behind the making of the music. For the sake of a review that is also a bit informative though, I will break down these basic elements. There are three types of "instruments" used by Elend, one is a live orchestra, second are the voices of singers, third is "electroacoustic" sounds composed in a noisy or ambient/atmospheric style. Traditional harmony is abandoned for the most part in this record. There aren't lots of consonant chords or typical chord progressions, instead dissonance prevails. When melodies show up, they flow on ambivalent ground, without completion, drifting like uncertain souls. Most musical themes on this album can be better explained as a kind of auditory translation of events. There are extreme bursts of sound like explosions. Horns stutter madly between chromatic notes. Strings shriek a cloud of dissonant notes like the random voices of a panicked, fleeing crowd. Electronic instruments perform glissando cries; ascending and descending through the skies. Everything is delivered in exteme violence or otherwordly mystery. While the variety of expressive techniques is admirable, it is nothing new really. One accustomed with "modern" music can tell right away that most of these techniques are directly picked out from the vocabulary of composers like Penderewski, Scelsi, Schnittke. Out from the confines of metal/darkwave/industrial music this is nothing really "avant-garde", as separate elements at least. It is in the synthesis of it whole that lies the singularity of Elend, in their almost blasphemic boldness and consistency of their vision.

The success of this album lies in the complexity and merticulous crafting of the music in two levels, micro and macro. The instrumentation and the mixing of the album are spectacular. All the individual sounds are "glued" together in such a way that the tedious image of musicians performing their parts never occurs; the sounds are like actors in a huge, apocalyptic stage that Elend have set up. The underlying logic is very visual; many themes sound more like movements of objects and cosmic phenomenons, instead of just trying to make an emotional point. I get a lot of images in my head while listening to this album, dynamic and expanding. On the macro level, we have more like an external, story-driven progression of the music. It is the music that is subordinate to the vision, in other words, not the other way round. This is music to be experienced, to be listened from first to last second in seclusion, total darkness and in headphones (well, that's my favourite method of listening to such music, at least). It is also structured as not to give the impression of separate songs, but of one big composition, somewhat like an auditory film. Perhaps its greater merit is that it succeeds in creating a kind of continuum in which structure and progression, time in fact seems to vanish. Instead one is swept away by the darkness, living totally in the moment, in an alternation between outbursts of terror and fearful, silent expectance. This is actually the way that man responds to the condition of fear; and this is perhaps the only album (along by some works of Scelsi and Schnittke) I know of that can actually evoke the primordial, gut feeling of fear into me. Take "Ondes De Sang" as the prime example. What is it in these dissonances, in these timbres that makes them sound like the conjoined cries of an instrument of terror? That these seemingly intellectual musicians go for such a brutal, visceral response, is another perhaps superficial but interesting contradiction.

Perhaps a difference that seperates this music from black/death metal is that is descriptive of, rather than embodying the horror. In other words, I feel that what you hear is the voices of the tormented, not of the tormentors. If one reads the lyrics, the poem Iskandar Hasnawi has written for the album, it is actually a pretty humane terror that they describe (from what I've been able to extract), the fear of de-humanization in a future of constant war, murder and destruction. It is valid to think that this is probably far more frightening though (remember that some of the best horror movies prefer to show the face of the victims rather than that of the killers when the latter enter the scene). It is ironic really how rare in extreme metal darkness and (for a lack of a better word) evil are taken seriously. I think they are viewed more like a temporary deliquency, an expulsion of energy that brings one back to balance like watching a C- horror flick, listening to a black metal album and so on. I don't often see in metal this willingless to create a world out of this darkness and dive in it fully. And I'm just talking about basic psychic drive, no reason to compare the scope and immensity of Elend's endavour to that of any metal band. What is the meaning of it all, for Elend though? I cannot answer for themselves, but for me, it is both catharsis (in a psychological and educational manner, to get accustomed with a negative/destructive force for knowledge and experience) and visceral, sensual pleasure. Darkness is alluring although it is basically, deathlike. A paradox we have perhaps yet to resolve as a human species.

In the end, "A World in their Screams" stands on a somewhat uncertain, tragic ground. On the one hand, it is a perfect artistic achievement, sculped to last the passing of time. It is a "magnum opus", a culmination of vision and wisdom from a band that showed a brilliance that was somewhat fragmentary in its previous works. The problem with these works, especially such densely complex and demanding in physical and spiritual labor such as this, is that they (well, if one lets them) obliterate the future of the artist. It is to be expected perhaps that Elend (and even individually, Renaud Tschirner and Iskandar Hasnawi) since then have not released any new music to the public (to be more precise, Hasnaui has just released a personal demo track at the time of writing). On the other hand, where can you go from here? It is probably impossible, if not meaningless to do the exact same things and try to surpass them again and again. Bands, probably in the anguish of retaining their audience, attempt it all the time and fail. Artists need to urgently re-define themselves at this point; what they do, why they do it and how they will achieve it. Elend also have another side in their music, perhaps best represented by their "Winds devouring men" album, additionaly they are a kind of band that one would trust for honesty and innovation (even within the quite secluded field that they have marked for themselves). In any case, I would be very eager to listen to any new music from them, wherever it might stand in terms of style or vision. I also hope that this album eventually gets the recognition I feel it deserves. I do not believe it has found its audience yet - obviously too rough and nihilistic for the classical listener, too cerebral and multifarious for the metal one, too devoid of "easy" sentimentality for the darkwave/gothic one. It stands on its own, it does not reach out to anyone - you may reach out to it, but do so if only you honestly, deeply, dare. Otherwise it will just sound like noise. But real darkness comes from surrender.