(Here’s Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by North Carolina’s Feminazgul, which was released on March 17th.)
There’s a lot of things I love about Metal. Heck, I wouldn’t have been writing here for over nine feckin’ years if that wasn’t the case. But, truth be told, there’s a lot of things about the Metal scene which I don’t love.
For one thing, our tendency to bend over backwards to excuse or justify something reprehensible which our favourite artists have done, purely because of how good their music is, has always struck me as pretty distasteful (and I’m not excusing myself from this either, as I’ve certainly done it in the past).
But, similarly, the idea of simply praising a band for having the “right” ideology, for saying the “right” things, doesn’t sit quite right with me either, and I’ve seen far too many instances recently where people seem willing to overlook a band’s relative mediocrity simply because they’ve got the “right” message.
Don’t get me wrong, a band’s message, a band’s meaning, can be just as important as their medium (though it doesn’t have to be), but I don’t think, with the wealth of options available to us all these days, we should feel like we have to sacrifice one in favour of the other.
Which brings me, smoothly, to Feminazgul (FYI, love the name), a band whose music and meaning is so tightly interwoven that there’s simply no question of separating the art from the artist.
First off, let me say up-front that getting some of our readers (as eclectic and forward-thinking as many of them can be) to give this band a chance is likely to be bit of an uphill struggle.
For some of them the band’s explicitly anti-fascist, anti-misogynist stance will, sadly, be a deal-breaker, even if it isn’t reflected explicitly in their lyrics (though the seeds are certainly there).
For others the purposefully provocative nature of the album’s title, No Dawn for Men, will probably be a step too far (though, if you’re at all secure in yourself, I don’t see why, as it’s no more provocative a title than, say, “Christraping Black Metal”).
And speaking of Marduk and their ilk, those expecting No Dawn… to be a similarly flesh-ripping blastathon will also probably find themselves a tad disappointed to discover that it errs more towards the melancholy and atmospheric approach of artists like ColdWorld and An Autumn For Crippled Children (who are probably Feminazgul’s closest living peers).
But if, after reading all that, you’re still with me, then chances are that you’re going to be open-minded enough, or, at least, curious enough, to properly appreciate what you’re about to hear.
Beginning with the whistling birdsong and creaking accordion which introduces opener “Illa, Mother of Death”, No Dawn for Men quickly reveals itself to be an album more about texture and taste than fire and fury (though there’s certainly an undeniable undercurrent of both).
Throughout each of its eight tracks (well, almost all of them) the album’s near-seamless blending of guitars and synths feels like a natural union of melody and dissonance, while the anguished howl of vocalist Laura Beach adds an intense emotional flavour to the material, humanising it without nullifying or neutering its inherent strangeness.
Those looking for a bit more punch will find it in the anxiety-inducing and angst-ridden strains of “I Pity the Immortal”, whose riveting drum work (eschewing blastbeats in favour of rapid, skittering rhythms and pulsing kick patterns) and soaring synths most definitely take a page out of An Autumn for Crippled Children’s post-modern playbook, while those after something which leans more towards the avant-garde side of atmospheric will doubtless find the outlandish grandeur of “The Rot In The Field Is Holy” – six minutes (and change) of visceral vocals, weeping violin, tremulous theremin(!) and outlandish operatic embellishments – very pleasing indeed.
Even when the band ramp up the aggression, as they do on “Bury the Antlers With the Stag”, they refuse to leave their more unconventional inclinations behind, as the song’s spacey synths and slinky percussion recall the similarly strange and unorthodox sound(s) of Aussie astronauts Mesarthim (albeit with a more grounded and folksy flavour).
Of course, No Dawn for Men is far from perfect, despite what you might read elsewhere, as while both “Forgiver, I Am Not Yours” and “Look Not to Erebor” – the former a seething soundscape of moody dissonance and melodic ambience, the latter a lengthy piano-driven interlude – are solid enough on their own, taken together they comprise a distinct lull in the album’s energy (especially “…Erebor”) that goes on just that little bit too long.
That being said, the decision to end the record with a reworking and re-recording of two tracks from the group’s first (and even more provocatively titled) EP – namely “To the Throat” and “In the Shadow of Dead Gods” – pays off big-time, not only rediscovering the early energy levels from the album’s first half, but also bringing these two tracks fully to life, with a bigger, bolder, and more bombastic sound which fits them like a second skin and ends the album on an unexpectedly exultant note.
Is No Dawn for Men a perfect album? By no means. Nor is it as wholly original (or, at least, wholly unique) as some of its listeners might have you believe.
But it is a truly fascinating piece of work, one whose high points vastly outweigh its minor missteps and whose songs only become more impressive, and more immersive, the more you listen to them.
And while I have no doubt it’s going to be a divisive record amongst our readership, I can say with confidence that the sheer passion and integrity, as well as the obvious artistry, on display here will undoubtedly mean that it will forge a fierce and undying connection with at least a few of you.
Which, dare I say, is the reason we call it “art”.