(Andy Synn provides this review of the albums-to-date released by Norway’s Benea Reach.)
Recommended for fans of: Meshuggah, Extol, Isis
With the Second (well, eighth) Coming approaching, it seems fitting to return to The Synn Report with an edition focusing on one of the few bands to do post-Meshuggah metal right, deftly side-stepping the trends and tribulations of the “djent” scene and managing to create something distinctive and brimming with character. Indeed, this could be because although Meshuggah might be the obvious comparison, it’s also a limiting one, which barely even scratches the surface of the various influences that combine to give birth to Benea Reach’s roiling, storm-tossed sound.
I’ve heard a variety of words used to describe Benea Reach’s nervous, energised sound. “Sludgey”, “doomy”, “melodic”, “atmospheric”, and more, have all been thrown around at various times, attempting to capture the band’s mutant, amalgamated noise. Genre descriptions such as “metalcore”, “progressive metal”, “math metal” and “post-sludge” all apply in certain respects, making the Meshuggah comparisons perhaps more misleading than your initial assumptions might lead you to expect. The post-sludge, bruising metallic-hardcore aesthetic of the much-missed Burst is as fitting a comparison as Sweden’s poly-rhythmic metal messiah’s, as is the light-and-shade, life-and-death dynamic of the now-departed Isis.
What these bands all have in common is a massive, Richter-scale-bothering rhythmic foundation on which can be built towering monuments of ageless, terrible glory.
The group’s massive guitar sound, coming at you like a looming glacier, provides the heft and muscle for Ilka Viitasalo’s frustrated, emotive screams to smear crimson heartbreak across the mirrored, unbroken surface. Looping, elasticated bass-lines and a prismatic lens of synthetic soundscapes add colour and verve to the iron-clad guitars, incorporating an array of effects and a spectrum of digital noise. Ringing harmonics and shining guitar leads help craft an expansive atmosphere that enables the songs to explore unique directions and unexpected areas of sound and structure, without sacrificing the dense core of devastating dark matter.
MONUMENT BINEOTHAN – 2006
Growing from a warped, minimal note-progression into something humongous, the chugging, thunderous guitars of “Ground Slayer” set the precedent for the record, mammoth chords and maddening, Mastodon-ian drum work pummelling and pounding in an almost ritualistic manner. The relentless snare attack snaps and crackles with electricity, forming an off-kilter, jazzy backbone to the song’s hammering riffs and pained screams, aided and abetted by subtle shades of melody.
The propulsive guitars of “Inheritor” draw their energy from Cult Of Luna’s most primal urges, with the speed turned up a few notches, the heart-racing pace of the track allowing drummer Marco Storm to deliver precise and lethal blows of bone-breaking snare at a high rate of impact. The song mutates slowly into a more melodic and introspective number as the guitars grow from their humble beginnings into a wall of vast, impenetrable melody.
The monolithic riffs of “Transmitter” bear down with unrelenting pressure, crushing detritus into diamonds with the breaking weight of eons. Storm’s unwavering precision behind the kit locks the band into a seamless march of arrhythmic chugging, infiltrated by phantasms of melodic essence. Ghostly, droning riffs dominate the track, their brazen chords hanging menacingly in the air before plunging the track into darkness and despair. The tribalistic, electronic embellished finale of the track ends the song in a display of cyclical, brute-force chugging guitar work and ragged screams.
The group’s hardcore roots are most obvious on “Purge”, which bears a recurrent riff refrain that bears the hallmarks of The Ocean’s punkish moments, and even The Dillinger Escape Plan’s off-beat dynamism. A clattering cacophony of off-kilter drumming suddenly resolves into an eerie, atonal keyboard melody and blunt, stabbing guitars. A gnarled and more ragged sound fights to break through the polished surface sheen throughout, staggering riffs dragging the listener along in its wreckage-strewn wake.
The meticulously crafted onslaught of “Pandemonium” sees the band operating at the most extreme edge of controlled chaos, its crippling discordance and down-tuned aggression focussed on violence and impact above all else. Off-beat and oddly timed guitars are ringed by sudden, unexpected drumming change-ups, keeping the listener awake and aware of their constantly shifting surroundings, as an unsettling atmosphere is conjured by the steady, downbeat chugging and desperation-ridden growls and screams. Moments of melody are teased and then extinguished mercilessly, strangled by the song’s claustrophobic arrangements and tightly welded structure., which culminates in a horrendous, dragging, closing breakdown.
The neo-noir piano intro of “River” presages a track which places focus on the development of an all-encompassing atmosphere, all blinding, shocking lights and brooding shadows, filled with menace. Simple and stomping riffs reduce the album to a filthy crawl, Viitalo screaming his lungs out as out-of-tune pianos crumble into dust beneath the onslaught of evil, doom-laden chords.
“Torch” sees the group unleashing a vicious salvo of interlocked kicks and chugs as dissonant chord patterns and anti-harmonic leads swirl darkly in the ether, the band playing with stark dynamics and frame-shifts between jerking motion and frozen stillness. The addictive nature of the track’s rhythms worm their way under the skin, brooking neither resistance or refusal. Whispering atmospherics shimmer hauntingly in the background of the track, the jarring, angular guitar work blending the poly-rhythmic barbarism of Sweden’s premier chaos-wizards resulting in a-crash fixation on every spasming motion.
In contrast “Cornflux” is rich with a gorgeous, swirling current of melody, a sampled voice-over reciting a litany of hope and acceptance as swirling keys and taut, minimal guitar leads play off one another over a steady procession of thrumming bass-work, restrained drum patterns and ringing, clean-picked harmonies.
The uncomfortable melodies and experimental song-structures of “Emperor” pay clear tribute to Norwegian progsters Extol. Thick and muscular, the riffs ripple with animalistic fury, overwhelming the listener like a vast and irresistible force. The track’s unsettling bridge mixes clear melodies with odd, strummed chords, combining to wrap the listener in a shadowy aura of stark, silver highlights and dark, creeping menace. The unexpected incorporation of crooning clean vocals alters the track fundamentally, slipping seamlessly into a post-sludge, beaten-down hardcore approach, bristling with desperation. The song, one of the most unusual on the whole disc, culminates in a strange, sci-fi keyboard refrain and some unforgiving, devastating guitar-work.
Follow-up “Immaculate” is a brutal and uncompromising number. Shuddering, schizophrenic guitars cut and thrust with ravenous ferocity, suddenly splitting in a nuclear reaction of stunning heaviness, fracturing and atomising in a chain reaction of explosive force and earth-shaking tightness. The track’s massive, drifting heaviness is as unstoppable and unrelenting as the grinding and shifting of tectonic plates, while the emotional weight it carries displays a very human vulnerability and heart-on-sleeve honesty.
The 12-minute “Venerate” takes the listener on a journey of vertigo-inducing pinnacles and deep, claustrophobic valleys of sound, shifting between soothing ambience and heaving metallic fury in perfect synchronicity. The compulsive hammer-strikes of dense guitars and booming bass-lines rut and breed darkness, the seizure-like quality of the riffage sparking with nervous, neurotic energy. The track moves steadily into the shadowy realms of post-metal atmospherics, crystalline guitar melodies flowing in a raging torrent over stuttering, propulsive riff patterns all held together by Storm’s unceasingly accurate, unflinching drum work. Back and forth, the track moves between staccato, contorted rhythms and moments of sleek and subtle melody. The drawn-out burn-out of the song sees the guitars fade into nothingness while the keys rise into the ascendancy, a reflection of lost glories and faded memories.
The album closes with the ghostly dynamics of semi-instrumental “Drapery”. The croaking, desiccated vocals are subsumed by ringing, narcotic chords and a murky ambience, overlaying a pulsing heart of darkness. Strained, minimalistic acoustic guitar lines and eerie, droning synths drag the listener down into an unconscious morphine haze, ending the album on a brooding, sombre note.
Sample song: “Transmitter”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/03-Transmitter.mp3|titles=Benea Reach – Transmitter]
ALLEVIAT – 2008
The teasing, Tool-esque opening of “Awakening” soon gives way to the song’s lurching main riff and jerking, seizing drum work. Viitsalo’s versatile vocals switch on a dime between a high, caustic scream and a low, rumbling growl, his versatility matched by the array of melodic overtones and ringing harmonies teased from the guitars throughout the song, never once undercutting its dominant heaviness.
The shining, melodies of “New Waters” cut through with diamond-like precision, anguished vocals barking and growling with both lethal savagery and deep-seated emotion. Solidly bound yet flowing and fluid, the guitars detonate with thunderous force, making their digressions into muted, moody sludge-space and piercing melodic counterpoints all the more effective. The song’s massive central hook is twisted and reworked throughout the song, keeping things effortlessly infectious yet constantly fresh, whether delivered through scraping screams or moody spoken-word.
An eerie, prowling opening of subdued guitars and hypnotic, tribal drums sets the stage for the explosion of juddering, death metal grind that permeates “Lionize”, its crushing riffs looping and spinning with dizzying circularity. The golden ratio of disparate elements somehow blends seamlessly into a cohesive whole — man and machine, flesh and steel, a techo-organic whole both soft and supple, hard and unyielding. Its catastrophic, extinction-level slow-down is a sludgey, tar-thick morass of crawling death dynamics and unsettling keyboard emanations that hammers home the devastating nature of the track with jack-hammer blows of percussive riffage.
The punky, angular “Sentiment” showcases another facet of the band’s sound, its twanging, electrified main riff jerking and fizzing with barely suppressed energy, the sub-human death vocals sitting jarringly, yet effectively, over the top of the cyborg-Mastodon guitar work and nuclear bass lines. Smooth, mellifluous cleans are utilised sparingly, not to draw focus but to accent and add contrast to the heaving, convulsive chords and razor-edged guitar lines. A begrudging, semi-breakdown heralds a shift in focus, accented by layers of shining, harmonic-led melody, the song shifting and sliding between propulsive, snare-driven aggression and groaning, booming sludge-metal.
“Reason” sees the band throw themselves all out into a progressive stream of fluid light and shade. Its soft and shimmering opening bars, beneath which a flowing, jazzy drum beat plays quietly, build into a majestic and overwhelmingly powerful roar of wounded soul and raw emotion. Cascading chords add layer and layer of force to the song, above which blazing comets of fiery harmony leave trails of glowing melody. A fragile female voice joins the calm amidst the cacophony, her subtle tones laid out beguilingly upon a bed of winding piano and suppressed drumming, soon joined in melodic bliss by Viitaalo’s own soothing croon in a harmony of form and beauty. The song reaches crescendo in an epic display of anguished catharsis and pulsating heart-rending guitars.
“Legacy” is the first song in some time to draw heavily on the metallic mathematics of Meshuggah for influence, its jagged-edged riffs providing the backing for scratchy hardcore barks of unsettled belligerence. Yet its electrically charged, enigmatically timed structures eventually give way to a blazing blue-sky display of post-hardcore dynamics and sweeping post-metal colours. The song’s transition back and forth, transforming and reverting to form, is a seamless ebb and flow of natural evolution and clockwork precision.
Arguably even more off-kilter and complex, “Rejuvenate” switches wildly between agonised growls and screaming invective. Its cracked and broken riffs ride a bleeding edge of harsh dissonance and warped, nightmarish poly-rhythms. Collapsing in upon itself, the song’s claustrophobic intensity gives way to the eye of the storm — a calm section of smooth female vocals and shivering melody, accented by some subtle electronic embellishments. The track explodes back into full-force suddenly, combining these disparate elements into an artillery blast of violent chugging and haunting post-Isis moodscapes.
The evolutionary journey of sound pauses for a moment with the hypnotic instrumental “Illume”, restrained drums holding steady behind layers of luscious guitar work and ringing, clean-picked melodies, the soaring, ethereal female vocals used as just another instrument to add colour to the expressive picture painted.
Slow and proggy, yet vast and heavy, “Zenith” pounds relentlessly into the brain with a mix of raging fury and refined use of melody. The song weaves its way from its initial beginning of barely suppressed violence into a soaring spiral of chiming, almost reverent melody and blistering screams. Refusing to be rushed, the track stomps and grinds onward in a combination of monstrous power and effortless grace, marching to its conclusion at a steady, unyielding pace.
Penultimate track “Unconditional” mirrors Extol more closely than the rest of the album, at least in its early stages, as the odd juxtaposition of harsh screams and weirdly harmonic clean vocals challenge the listener’s expectations with a tapestry of complex and interwoven guitar-work. Piece by piece it builds toward a technicolour explosion of pulsating bass-lines and molten, hammer-meets-anvil riffage, while the dual vocals twist and turn in the grips of an emotional maelstrom.
Heavier than dark matter, and just as enigmatic in construction, finale “Dominion” staggers under the sheer weight of its own dissonant aggression, as atonal, disharmonic leads drive their barbed hooks into the wounds blasted by plate-armoured riffage. The convulsive string work swings and thrusts with reckless abandon, while the vocals deliver lung-shattering, vein-busting shrieks of cathartic venom. A mid-song pause for breath precedes a final convulsion of fearsome rage, igniting and ascending into fiery glory. Its irresistible intensity comes at you in waves of blazing passion, culminating in a massive, distorted death-rattle of tortured guitars and tormented screams.
Sample song: “Reason”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/05-Reason.mp3|titles=Benea Reach – Reason]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Benea Reach appear to have completed work on their third album, Possession, and just yesterday they made this announcement on their Facebook page:
It’s finally official!!! We are proud to announce that we have signed a worldwide deal with Spinefarm Records / Universal Music. The release date for Possession is not yet set, but it will probably be available in stores worldwide sometime in May. A single will be released before that. We’ll be able to be more specific within a week or two. Possession will contain 11 songs that will make you possessed… Stay tuned…”
The band’s Facebook page also includes a 2011 demo version of a song called “From Dusk Til Dawn”, and here it is:
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/18255008″ iframe=”true” /]