I don't normally do negative reviews. Perhaps because some of the worst review material I've read is of this kind, usually sadistic beat-downs that portray the worst of heavy metal psychology; try-hard attempts to define objective borders between the bad and the good, the "true" and the "false", a kind of ego-driven or fractionalist fanaticism that succeeds in blinding itself to "otherness", usually differing aesthetics in the case of music, thus being terribly limiting even to oneself. However, I'm not ideologically opposed to critique, just on the premise that it respects the existential validity of those that stand behind the work (both musicians and fans) and that it suggests for improvements, rather than considering its social cause to be the elimination of the, so-called "wrong", art. So, from time to time, I do happen to come upon some band whose music leaves me frustrated and their success clueless. There is a tendency in the metal universe to judge bands that sign to mainstream labels with an austere and over-expectant attitude, which is not entirely incorrect, based in that a "successful" band uses canals of information that reach wider audiences and that there is a kind of justice by seeing the "good" bands take over these places. However, let us remember that this attitude is as often a result of subconscious (or not) envy (most high-critics of heavy metal got themselves bands that never "made it") and of the peculiar kind of fantasy-elitism that seems omnipresent in the underground; where anything over-ground is proclaimed as populist or decadent, so as to re-enforce the self-affirming notion that everything obscure must be worthy. I cannot claim to be completely impervious to either of these impulses, so it is important to be open and non-determined even while attempting something as experimental as listening to a full album of a band you're already not very fond of, to see if it, well, indeed suck.
My first contact with Imperium Dekadenz was with a song off their 2011 break-away album, Procella Vadens. In "An Autumn Serenade" I was immediately put off by recognizing several Wolves in the Throne Room tropes (notice the riff in 3:16, the drum change and then the lead and oh, 6:50, hallo Two Hunters) being ingeniously ripped off. It's not that direct influence is a bad thing, but when it's not somewhat filtered out in the end, it suggests a lack of identity and personal vision for a band. That incident made me disinterested in the rest of the record, which didn't try hard to impress me anyway with its lack of strong melodies and originality. However, seeing in 2013 the band sign to Season of Mist and their albums receiving generally unanimous praise, raised my eyebrows a bit. Could there have been something that I've missed, did the band improve so much, or is this a case of a big label throwing easy-food around?
After an acceptable acoustic intro, "Brigobannis" begins with strength and dark emotion, being reminiscent of older German bands (yep, obviously it's the language thing too) rather than I.D. as I knew them, a perhaps positive first impression. The sound is more powerful than before, without betraying reverbed atmospherics and black metal tremble, while high-pitched vocals cut through at ease. This is a band that sets the stage well; however, momentous, "vertical" impression does not mean much besides that they know how to play music and afford to get a good production (both not a given in black metal, to their merit). The evolution of a song is a part that usually separates mediocre, one-idea bands with the good ones. Unfortunately, from the third riff and on, we get the typical riffing that is the main weakness of the band. It is usually comprised of two chords and its semi-melodic movements are lifeless, like a vapid imitation of classic black metal.
"Aue der Nostalgie", however, is probably the most ambitious song in the album, in that it does not relay in a short exposition (it hits the 10 minute rank) but it builds on narrative, deep moods that are centered upon a fiercer kind of black metal. In the first section of the song, the band sounds vital and engaging, incorporating stranger riffing, occasional double leads and a faster, more "masculine" rhythmical drive. It isn't anything too brilliant (and still ends in a predictable manner, in repetition of the ok-ish first riff) but it a song I would listen for a 2nd or 3d time, which gets the hopes up for the rest of the record. "Ave Danuvi", which hails the river Danube, is more epic, slow and sorrowful, sporting a brief, harmonic choir that sounds like a combination of sampled recordings and the voices of the band. This song succeeds too in its narrative cohesion, however, I feel it ends briefly; after an interesting acoustic part that sets expectation and drive for a longer exposition, it seems like the band is hurried to bring back the melodic riff to end it. It is a good song, that rises the band quite above the level of my preconceptions, although I somehow get the feeling that something better could have been done out of it.
"Memoria" is another acoustic guitar instrumental, this time with a fragile and romantic sentimentality, that discloses that the band probably feels confined within typical metal borders. Indeed, the next song, Aura Silvae, is rather upbeat, using major modes that remind me of Alcest, before making an abrupt turn to a darker second riff and then back. It would seem like a case of "wait, that's too happy, we must be METAL" and since the song continued in playing around with conflicting emotions, I checked the lyric sheet (there is a PDF English translation provided, I will applaud here the band for caring to do so) but cannot say I found much to justify this conceptually. In total, this song is as simplistic and uneventful as "Brigobannis" and thus, seems like a filler.
"Der Unweg" begins in a doomier, more contemplative mood, adorned by Burzum-ic bell-like synth. It continues in the same simplistic manner, adding even bouncy rhythms and occasional saccharine licks of presumably alt or-goth-rock origins before taking some dark turns along the way, that somewhat keep the interest at a midway between not-terribly-bored and not-really-interested. Here's what happens with simple music; it needs a certain ambience and context for it to work. Two-chord riffs can be great, as black metal or even pop music has proved countless of times, but this doesn't mean they'll be every time, even if it seemed like a good idea to the musician, at the time of inception. Maybe the guitar sound was perfect then but not after, maybe the arrangement or mixing destroyed part of the impact, maybe the musician didn't materialize what was playing in his/her mind, but for whatever reason, the simpler parts of Imperium Dekadenz don't do it for me.
While "Striga" and "Tränen des Bacchus" fortunately bring back the band in pissed-off black metal mode, it would be time for me to break to track-by-review as moments of boredom begun to prevail significantly, with mediocre and cliched riffing destroying whatever impetus was being born. In total, while this has been an interesting experiment in exposing good sides to a band that seemed to me totally limp in a previous record, I still can't say that I changed my mind too much, nor do I understand their overall acceptance. I still don't get a sense of strong identity, but the biggest problem is in their melodicism, which might be only good for the (low) standards of cascadian-style or "depressive" black metal. Ultimately, their strongest merits are the deliverance and the production, things that many classic records did without. Thus, this a record that I would be suggesting to someone only as a 10th or so choice, for whoever is especially fixated on the genre of melodic, atmospheric black metal. That is not to say that I would not be giving another chance to the band though, if they succeed in framing and elaborating the most ambitious parts of "Meadows" in the future.