(Wil Cifer reviews the new album by Oakland-based Alaric.)
In my assessment of what makes a band heavy, darkness is an integral component of the equation. Dialing in the gain and tuning lower are easy first steps toward this woeful abyss, but it really takes the ability to convey life experience stained by addiction, mental illness, and deep loss to capture convincing sonic shades.
This band from Oakland is more than convincing when it comes to diving into the shadows. They caught my ear when the whole hipster death rock revival came into my consciousness, though these guys are much rougher around their serrated edges than other bands that rode in on that wagon. Now five years later they have made a very welcome return with End of Mirrors thanks to Neurot Recordings.
All the things that have worked for these guys in the past are in place as they plow into the post-apocalyptic wasteland their music conjures. Their bassist provides varied levels of gloom-ridden melodies that are trod upon by the guitarist, a member of the sludge band Noothgrush. Some of the hypnotizing grooves here take multiple listens to fully sink in.
Shane Baker’s baritone is gruff, but capable of a more desperate croon than we heard from him in their previous releases. “Adore” begins with a more balladic brooding and slowly swells with layers of despairing pleading. It eventually picks up into more of a plodding punk drone before the noise-crazed wave of atmosphere overtakes it.
“The Shrinking World” continues to drift down the dreamy desolation of a paranoid urban landscape described in the lyrics. While not an album of murder ballads, these stories are told with the same conviction of the delivery of Tom Waits or Nick Cave.
The title track stomps back into motion. It’s as heavy and driving as metal, but has more in common with Hawkwind than Slayer. Aggression is a key component of their sound; even in the album’s more passive moments, it’s still bubbling under the surface like a serial killer staring at himself in the mirror.
While this band might have come into my consciousness when the death rock revival rolled into the inner webs, I think a song like “Angel” makes it clear that to dismiss this band as death rock or post-punk is dramatically oversimplifying the music even at their most morose. The ghostly quality to this song doesn’t make you feel like you are sharing needles in West Hollywood on Halloween night. It is more expansive in the way it haunts you.
Even though this album took a few more listens before this slow-working drug was fully in my system, it lives up to the legacy Alaric began building from the start, and if you are looking for something that is dark, aggressive, and more left-of-center than your typical metal band does these days, then this is worth your time.
End of Mirrors (which features artwork by Kevin Gan Yuen) will be released by Neurot Recordings (CD, Vinyl, digital) on May 6. A tape version will be released by Sentient Ruin Laboratories.