(Andy Synn assembles a trio of reviews for recently released albums by German bands.)
A couple of weeks back I put together a collection of reviews under the banner of “The Best of British 2016, Part 1”, chronicling three albums, each from a different artist, currently taking the UK underground scene by storm.
And although I’m currently in the process of putting Part 2 together, you’ll note how I’ve gotten slightly side-tracked by a plethora of sterling releases from our Germanic cousins, all with their roots, historically at least, in the general sound and aesthetic of Black Metal, but all of which offer something strikingly different to the more open-minded listener.
photo by Egomaschine
AST – FRAKTALE
Enigmatic antagonists Ast finally released their debut album in March, following a series of split-releases (including one with their countrymen in Ancst, whose debut album I also reviewed here), which helped establish the band’s hard-fought and hard-won Black Metal credentials.
By some margin the heaviest and most blisteringly aggressive album of today’s selections, Fraktale still displays a wealth of creative and compositional nuances, with splashes of electronica, spiteful Punk, and scalding Noise all rearing their heads over the course of the album’s <44-minute length.
Not that you’d necessarily know it from pounding opener “Vollendung”, which practically sears your eardrums right from the get-go, braiding together chunky, hard-nosed riffs, gritty tremolo melodies, and lithe, rippling bass-lines into a taut, asphyxiating noose of savage blackened noise, before culminating in an unexpectedly depressive and restrained finale.
The solemn, melodic introduction to “Fraktale” soon gives way to a maelstrom of writhing, serpentine tremolo riffs, leading into the caustic hooks and barely-controlled chaos of “Hypnos”, which in turn transitions into the more unconventional strains of “Nachtmar”, whose second half sees the band dabbling in some noisesome, Doom/Drone-tinged soundscapes to enhance the song’s ferocious Blackened Hardcore racket.
The five-and-a-half-minute “M.S.” ebbs and flows in three distinct movements, first as a more melodically inclined, synth-touched ambient intro, then a visceral blackened assault on the senses, and finally a captivating display of patient Post-Rock/Post-Metal power, before the conjoined twin tracks of “Nekrolog, Pt. 1” and “Nekrolog, Pt. 2” unleash their frenzied array of bristling, scattergun blastbeats and diamond-sharp, glass cutting melodic tremolo riffs.
The first half of “Dyphemist” wallows in a mire of dense, droning noise that worms its way under your skin and into your bones, only to shatter them from the inside out with its subsequent explosion of shrapnel-spitting Black Metal which, at times, reaches an intensity level bordering on pure dissonance. It’s followed by the sublime, contemplative opening to “Leidenfrost”, though this soon gives way to a procession of thrumming, thick-limbed riffs and howling vocals, before the twisted dynamic and unpredictable stylistic shifts of “Sollbruch” bring the house down.
As face-meltingly hostile and aggressive as this album is, the way in which it intertwines this with unexpected digressions and sudden switches in attack showcase just how little these German ne’er-do-wells care about playing by the orthodox rules. And that’s a good thing. Because it means that, despite its occasionally almost overwhelming levels of intensity and volume, Fraktale is constantly capable of surprising you and pummelling you in ways you wouldn’t expect.
THRÄNENKIND – KING APATHY
King Apathy, the second album by Munich metallers Thränenkind, is one of those albums which I keep seeing tagged with the slightly nebulous “Post Black Metal” label, something which doesn’t really sit right with me. That’s no comment on the album’s quality (it’s really quite good), however, and more just to do with the idea that if we ARE going to keep using labels and genre terms, the least we can do is use them to represent bands accurately!
Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely an underlying (and important) influence from the more melodic and atmospheric end of the (Post) Black Metal spectrum to be found on tracks like propulsive opener “Desperation” and the riveting “Smokestacks And Concrete Walls”, but in truth Thränenkind have more in common with the angst-ridden and melancholy Hardcore of a band like Shai Hulud (see the title-track and/or “Urban Giants” for proof of this), than they do with anything hailing from the windswept Scandinavian wilderness.
Indeed, even the most “blackened” tracks err closest in style and spirit to bands like An Autumn For Crippled Children (“Ghosts”, “Drifter”) or Harakiri For The Sky (“The Blood On Our Hands”), neither of whom one would ever refer to as “trve” or “kvlt”.
Again, though, please don’t interpret that as any sort of criticism. I’m just trying to make sure you come at this album from the right angle, and without any incorrect or inappropriate preconceptions since, taken entirely on its own terms and without all the baggage that these labels bring, King Apathy is actually a rather impressive piece of work, coating its heartfelt, Hardcore passion with a shimmering sheen of grey-shrouded melancholy and climactic Post-Rock grandeur.
True, the lyrics and vocals are occasionally a little over-earnest at times, but they’re delivered with such a sense of conviction that it seems a little churlish to chide them for this, particularly when that self-same ardour and intensity bleeds through in every ringing chord and gleaming melody.
There’s a feeling of longing and yearning that underpins King Apathy that somehow translates into a surprisingly hopeful vibe, despite the album’s gloomy, Katatonia-esque aesthetic. It’s a compelling mix of downbeat and determined, which means that, while it probably won’t strike a chord with all our readers, those who do connect with it will keep that connection for life.
TODTGELICHTER – ROOMS
Much like the previous entry it seems inherently wrong to characterise Todtgelichter as a Black Metal band these days. Certainly their early albums fit this mould, but the band only really hit the jackpot with the addition of keyboardist/secondary vocalist Marta as a permanent member for 2010’s fantastic Angst (though the follow-up, Apnoe, was something of a let-down in comparison).
Now, with their fifth album, and Marta upgraded once again to main vocalist, the band’s blackened roots may seem fainter than ever (though not entirely gone, as you can clearly see during the more visceral moments of “Schrein”, for example), but the resultant prog-metal cocktail is still impressively potent and powerful in its own right.
Rich and elaborate compositions which dance to their own tune are the name of the game here, layered with waves of proggy melody and intense, metallic energy, from the extravagant, multifaceted strains of endlessly fascinating opener “Ghost”, all the way through to the compelling closing-credits montage of “Pacific”.
In between these two bookends you’ll find a library’s worth of intriguing influences and elements making up the rest of the album’s nine tracks, running the gamut from darkly progressive atmospheric touches to sudden bursts of furious aggression, all topped off with Marta’s instantly recognisable melodic croon and/or ravaging scream.
The previously mentioned “Schrein” is a blast of pure melodic energy and vigour, built around a backbone of invigorating, progressive riff work and focussed surges of blasting power, and coated in a series of mesmerising lead guitar and vocal refrains, while the first half of “Shinigami” hints at undertones of balladry with its mix of slow, sombre ambience and Marta’s aching clean vocal melodies, though by the time the track concludes it’s transformed into something far darker and more anguished in tone.
Synth-driven, pseudo-instrumental interlude “Necromant” is an interesting curiosity in all its neon-toned, retro-futurism, followed swiftly by the edgy juxtaposition of crackling screams and coruscating harmonies that dominates “Zuflucht”, which continues to showcase the band’s distinctive blending of Prog-Metal complexity and cinematic atmosphere, before the mesmerising “4JK” switches the focus almost entirely onto Marta’s glorious singing voice.
Penultimate track “Origin” generally sits much more on the Prog-Rock end of the scale than it does the more metallic side of things, particularly with its shamelessly organ-drenched introductory bars and grandiose vocal hooks, though things do take a significant shift towards the band’s blackened roots in the final third of the track, Marta unleashing her venomous snarl as the song builds towards a vital, visceral finale, overflowing with winding lead guitar licks and blasting drums.
Not quite perfect (neither of the interlude tracks, “Lost” and “Necromant” really add much), and perhaps not quite matching the heights of their previous magnum opus (though it definitely comes close), I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Rooms to anyone looking for something a little outside of their usual ballpark. With its unusual blend of styles and undeniable potency, it’s well worth your time and effort.