(For the 82nd edition of THE SYNN REPORT, Andy reviews the discography of Anomalie, including the new album Visions, which is set for release on March 17 — and from which we will be bringing a very special premiere… soon.)
Recommended for fans of: Harakiri For The Sky, Insomnium, Ghost Brigade
As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a certain clique of bands based in and around the Germany/Austria area who, because they’re influenced by Black Metal but don’t fit neatly into that particular box, are often mislabelled as “Post Black Metal”, either through a misapprehension of what that term actually refers to, or through sheer laziness on the part of the writer/reviewer.
This loose collective of acts, many of whom are frequent touring partners and who often share live members, exists on a spectrum, with the most overtly blackened artists (Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Agrypnie) occupying one end of the scale, while the other end of things is home to acts like Post-Metal/Post-Hardcore types Thränenkind and the sadly underrated Todtgelichter.
In between these two extremes we find bands like shimmering shoegazers Heretoir (whose new album I’ll be reviewing very soon) and NCS-favourites Harakiri For The Sky, along with today’s featured artist, Austria’s own Anomalie, whose mainman Marrock has performed live with several of the artists mentioned above, and whose latest album – scheduled for release on the 17th of March – goes some way towards finally justifying the “Post Black Metal” tag which has dogged the band ever since their first release.
BETWEEN THE LIGHT – 2014
The band’s debut shimmies into view with the dynamic, mercurial strains of “Blinded”, all rippling melody, simmering drum work, and atmosphere-drenched distortion. The combination of the track’s moody, melodic lead guitar work and Marrock’s anguished, emotive vocals puts me in mind of a less doomy, more energetic version of the much-missed Ghost Brigade, as do several of the song’s more solemn and stripped-down interludes, all of which work to keep the track feeling endlessly fresh and invigorating throughout its extravagant eight-and-a-half-minute run-time.
The majestic melodeath misery of “Not Like Others” seems to owe a heavy debt to Marrock’s time with Harakiri For The Sky, delivering a similar blend of electrifying, emotional lead parts and hard-driving drums, although the more intense, blast-fuelled moments do have a more palpably “blackened” feel to them, while the sombre introduction to “Tales of a Dead City” brings back those early Ghost Brigade comparisons with a vengeance, before eventually transforming into a dynamic blend of cascading chords, brooding riffs, and weaving tremolo melodies, complete with some elegant interplay between male and female clean vocals.
The dreary, rain-swept atmospheric strains of “Oxymora” take things in a doomier, gloomier direction, slowing things down somewhat to give everything (particularly the bass) more room to breathe, although this sublime slow-burn is offset now and then by a sudden injection of razor-sharp tremolo work or bombastic, up-tempo, drumbeats.
The album’s finale comes in the form of the eight-minute “Recall to Life”, whose melodic, melodrama-infused intro could easily be the soundtrack to a late ’80s movie starring Tom Cruise (and I mean that as a compliment), and which ultimately finds Marrock doing his very best impersonation of the dearly-departed Woods of Ypres, channelling the grim, gothic glamour of David Gold and co. in surprisingly eloquent fashion so as to end the album on a suitably downbeat and depressive note.
REFUGIUM – 2015
The second Anomalie album immediately showcases a major step-up for the band, with the intensely atmospheric “In Fear of Tomorrow” building from an elegant and earnest acoustic intro into a powerful display of thrumming, muscular riffs and mournful tremolo melodies, topped off with Marrock’s haggard, yet heartfelt, howl (not to mention some subtle clean vocals).
“Spiritual Distortion” mixes chunky, chugging guitars, rapid-fire blastbeats, and fleet-footed percussive patterns with an array of evocative melodies and harmonised, high-energy hooks, all building steadily towards a suitably ostentatious finale, while “Untouched Walls” is a shamelessly infectious stomp-along in the Insomnium mould, complete with a bevy of blisteringly catchy lead guitar refrains and some utterly gorgeous acoustic guitar work.
The rock-solid, mid-paced drum beat which anchors the opening to “Between Reality and the World Beyond” helps ensure that the song instantly gets inside your head, though the track’s innate catchiness doesn’t detract from the clever layering of instruments involved, particularly the nuanced bass-work which weaves its way smoothly between the multiple hooks and harmonies which make up the body of the song.
The pairing of the moody “Solace” and the more progressive “Leaving Somnia” takes Refugium in a darker, less immediate direction. The former is another piece of melancholy blackened melodeath cut from the same cloth as songs like “From Yesterday to Ashes” and “Parting” by Harakiri for the Sky, albeit with a greater emphasis on atmosphere overall, particularly during its exquisite instrumental outro, while the latter possesses an even more forlorn countenance, allowing the listener to really wallow in their misery in truly cathartic fashion.
Penultimate track “Freiflug 48° 23′ N, 16° 19′ O” is probably the most out-of-place track on the album, though that doesn’t make it a bad one by any means. It just happens to find Marrock drifting a little too close to generic Alcest country for my liking. Thankfully, the climactic ten-minute title-track serves to pick up any resultant slack in phenomenal fashion, ending the album on the highest possible note, with every scything stream of blastbeats, every grandiose, Ghost Brigade-esque lead part, and every raging riff delivered with all the energy and emotional intensity of a band on the cusp of greatness.
VISIONS – 2017
While it’s undeniable that, whether by accident or design, both Anomalie and Harakiri for the Sky owe more than a fair bit of their sound to Insomnium, it has to be said that the new Anomalie album, a seven-track, semi-conceptual composition, just so happens to be the least Insomnium-esque of all three of the band’s releases.
It’s also probably the darkest, most overtly “blackened” Anomalie album yet, something which can be partially attributed to the album’s sharper, icier guitar tone, and to its generally bleaker atmosphere.
Opener “Towards the Sun” begins with several minutes of sombre acoustic guitar work (which also crops up, in slightly different arrangements, twice more over the course of the song) before blooming into a focussed powerhouse of monolithic riffs and dreary, rain-soaked melodies, while “The Wanderer” opens up with a barrage of blazing blastbeats and torrential Post-Black riffery, followed by a pleasingly proggy procession of intricately-crafted guitar parts and icy, crystal-clear melodies (including one completely unforgettable central guitar refrain).
Humongous third track “A Monument” is by some way the longest, and darkest, Anomalie song yet, reminiscent (both in length and in atmosphere) of White Tomb-era Altar of Plagues. It wears this darkness well, however, breaking up its gloomy, post-apocalyptic presence with moments of dreamlike acoustic ambience and sudden eruptions of scathing intensity, so that the song never feels in danger of outstaying its welcome.
Both the imposing “Illumination” (complete with crackling storms of blastbeats and a scintillating, piano-led outro) and the rhythmic pulse of “Starless Nights” bring back some of that gloriously infectious, Insomnium-esque melody from previous albums, but never in a manner which scream “derivative”.
The pure, cathartic energy of each track certainly helps in that respect, Marrock pouring his heart and soul into every shining melodic hook and throat-scraping vocal line, to the extent where the sheer emotion present in lines such as “why do we speak, when we have nothing to say? And why do we behave, like we were gods, day by day?” is truly palpable.
The opening bars of penultimate number “White Forest” have a similarly Finnish feel to them as their predecessors, but the song soon shifts into an even gloomier, doomier style which (again) recalls the goth-friendly grooves of Woods of Ypres, albeit with a far chunkier metallic backbone, leading into the album’s titanic finale, “One With the Soil”, which not only features some of the band’s biggest, boldest riffage yet, but which is also replete with numerous creative, progressive touches, from the perfectly proportioned use of both male and female clean vocals, or the dramatic spoken-word section in the song’s second half, to the interweaving of expressive acoustic guitar work throughout the track.
Although it’s not perhaps quite as immediately infectious as its predecessor(s), in the end there’s no doubting the fact that Visions is a far more ambitious, far more involving album overall (and I say that as a huge fan of Refugium), one which finds Marrock (and cohorts) taking some great strides towards stepping out of the long shadows cast by both his peers and influences.
And, ultimately, it’s the sort of album which not only catches your attention on first try, but which rewards repeat listening with an ever deeper and more fulfilling emotional experience.
Which, let’s be honest, is sometimes exactly what we all need in our lives.
Spot on with recommending it to Harakiri for the Sky and Insomnium fans! Been an Insomnium fan for a while, but only recently discovered HftS…thanks to you guys. Been looking for bands with more of the melo/doom-death sound, but vox more in line with black metal. Good stuff!
I’d recommend these then. Somewhere between Enslaved, Agalloch, and Dark Tranquillity.