(Andy Synn takes a look behind the mask with Gaerea‘s new album, Mirage, out on Friday)
What’s in a name, anyway?
Well, according to some people… not a lot. And according to others… a great deal. Especially when it comes to genres.
Case in point, there are some people – by no means a majority, I should point out right away, though often the loudest and/or most obnoxious – who would balk at the very suggestion that Gaerea are a “true” (or “trve”) Black Metal band due to the fact that their sound is too “polished”, their visual aesthetic too “clean”, and so on.
And yet, for every one of them (I think of them as the Black Metal equivalent of the Amish – zealously convinced that a certain time period was the only “righteous” one, and that any progress beyond that should be shunned) there’s at least a dozen more for whom the very idea of questioning the band’s right to “belong” to the genre (of which they are so clearly and obviously a part) is patently ridiculous.
But the thing is… while much digital ink (and the occasional bit of non-digital blood) has been spilled over this argument, and many like it over the years… it’s obvious that Gaerea themselves don’t really care what you call them. They know who they are. And it’s the music, and not the labels which others put on it, which defines them.
If 2020’s Limbo was the sound of a band putting any doubts about their abilities – or their authenticity – firmly to rest, then Mirage is the sound of a band with nothing left to prove to anyone… except to themselves.
And it’s clear, from the moment that the sombre, scene-setting introduction to “Memoir” transitions into an electrifying maelstrom of torrential blastbeats and tumultuous distortion, that Gaerea have pushed themselves to aim higher, to dig deeper, and to think bigger on this record than ever before.
It’s not just that the band have further refined their already richly rewarding sound – less a case of smoothing off the rough edges and more about honing it to an even sharper point – but that they’ve gained the confidence, unshakeable and unassailable, to let the music dictate its own pace and find its own shape, regardless of anyone else’s expectations.
Does the song need to explode out of the gates only to then transform into a doom-laden, atmosphere heavy shadow-march (“Salve”)?
Does it require an intricately woven dynamic of shimmering ambience and hammering intensity to achieve its full potential (“Deluge”)?
Does the music demand lashings of gleaming melodic hooks, running the gamut from subtle solemnity to triumphant ecstasy (“Arson”)?
Well that’s what they’ll get, and more besides (and that’s just the first half of the album).
And it’s during moments like these – especially the hypnotic, heart-rending mid-section of the spellbinding title-track – where it becomes eminently clear that Gaerea‘s closest kinship, ultimately, is not with the so-called Black Metal “elite” but with artists (and I don’t use that word lightly) like Wolves In The Throne Room, Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Anomalie, etc, for whom Black Metal is a means to an end, a form of expression, rather than an end unto itself.
Look, I know how easy it is to get taken in by the illusion of hype these days, only to be thoroughly disappointed when what you get isn’t what you were promised.
But – trust me – this is one Mirage where you really can believe what you see and hear.