Ov Hollowness – Drawn to Descend

A strong performance matched with clear and direct production creates a well-crafted atmosphere on the sophomore release from Canada’s Ov Hollowness, Drawn to Descend. Although the album opener, ‘Old and Colder’, did little to grab my attention, the remaining tracks proved to combine the right amounts of melody, progression and attitude throughout, making for a solid listen.

At times, I felt as though the melodies being used became redundant, particularly the whole step minor to major chord change, while the utilization of a double-time feel change only caused an alarm on the previously mentioned album opener. Scathing vocals chill the blood from start to finish and the guitar work, whether taking an aggressive rhythm or ambient arpeggiated approach, does its job well, regardless of the songs demand.

The album shortest, most curious and final track, ‘The Darkness’, may prove to be my favorite for multiple reasons. The driving rhythm, half-time chorus and blues based, guest-spot guitar solo, are so cliched and out of place on this album that I wondered if it was a cover song I was listening to. The fact that Ov Hollowness was willing to place this up beat and ‘fun’ track at the end of an otherwise depressive metal masterpiece deserves its own rewards and recognition.

Netra – Melancolie urbaine

As Melancolie urbaine begins like a Scorcese flick, with the mood quickly set by ambulance sirens wailing over a brooding piano, I find myself immersed in the environment created by the cover art and album opener ‘City Lights’. The similarities end there, as break-beat drum patterns give us a taste of intrusion by impersonal technology before erupting in crashes of distortion and tormented screams. A lyrically minimalist ‘concept’ album, relying on indirect feel and subconscious suggestion as opposed to song structure or predictable progressions, Netra provide a soundtrack for the city dwelling disenchanted everywhere.

‘La Page’ caught my ear by making good use of a sequenced synthesizer and well-timed feel change in the drums as it flowed from one idea to the next, lucid and without form like a ten hour acid trip condensed to a five minute thought. Melancolie urbaine‘s magnum opus, the nine plus minute ‘Outside…Alone’, follows the same path, with a rather lengthy and mostly unintelligible spoken word track lifted from a movie that I do not recognize. The performance does reflect on the ocean and how the city is “…all wrong”, before its climatic collapse that yields a strong and melodic vocal performance from solemember, Netra.

As the remainder of the album wanders through dimly lit alleys, it only briefly captures the same feel and unease that the first few tracks really possess. The bits of spoken word that are scattered throughout Melancolie urbaine reinforces the album as suitable background music to a dark drama motion picture, where the protagonist is eventually consumed by his delusions and dies alone under a freeway-bridge. The final track, ‘Blase’, illustrates this well with much sobbing and discordant piano, before pulling the trigger. Overly dramatic by far but still an extremely effective and well produced vision.

Ekove Efrits – Conceptual Horizon

Another sea of despair and over-the-top production awaits listeners on ‘Conceptual Horizon’, the third full length from Iranian one man band Ekove Efrits. Layers of keyboards, violins, guitars and vocals make this 60+ minute album a lot to experience and little to remember.

I found it interesting that the liner notes of ‘Conceptual Horizon’ go to great lengths to provide a long list of genre labels in the full page bio describing the music and band’s history. To summarize: Ekove Efrits used to be black/gothic metal but is now depressive black metal with doom, post rock, experimental, trip hop and ambient influences. Give me a fucking break! Shouldn’t the listener decide what label to give the album, including the all-too-prevalent ‘self-indulgent-and-self-important-shit-metal’?

So…my black metal sensibilities, aesthetics, whatever you want to call them, spits on ‘Conceptual Horizon’ and all of its polished and produced masturbation. The soft and sensitive vocal performance would better suit a Kleenex commercial and for all the variety of sounds offered from whatever keyboard workstation sole member Count de Efrit labored over for countless hours, ‘Conceptual Horizon‘ contains virtually no passages, melodies or lyrics that will be remembered.  So maybe I define ‘black metal’ differently from others, which is a good thing, but lyrics like ‘…tell me why you left me behind, I’m standing here now without you’ just does not fucking cut it. No blood, no Satan and no matter how loud I turned it up and listened in, the drums didn’t even think about blasting.

I don’t take anything away from Ekove Efrits ability to write music, their discography can speak for itself. While combining so many of the styles that were previously mentioned, Ekove Efrits never quite does any of them very well. It is more important to challenge than comfort listeners by providing a unique listening experience and the only way for an artist to do this is to challenge himself.  Just because you have 1028 sounds available and unlimited recording tracks doesn’t mean you need to use them all. Where some may really enjoy the din that is ‘Conceptual Horizon’, I found it’s ‘concept’ to be obscured, indirect and convoluted throughout.

The Foetal Mind – The Grand Contraction

French trio The Foetal Mind administers a healthy dose of melody and musicianship on their second full length, The Grand Contraction. Crisp and well orchestrated drum programming provides a solid foundation for a sea of swirling guitar layers in this well-nigh instrumental release.

Since I didn’t take the time to Google Translate the predominately French liner notes, I can use only the wall of sound that is The Grand Contraction to interpret sole-songwriter Lord Trowe’s vision. The harmonies, rhythms and general progression of The Grand Contraction are all solid, although, at times feel empty without vocals, which make their painful presence felt and well received for only the track ‘Big Crunch’. Although I am sure the song’s context deals with a philosophy as grand as existentialism, it’s title reminds me of a chocolate bar.

What really grabbed my ear was the guitar work from The Foetal Mind. A few cock-rock guitar solos aside, the mire of dual guitars weave an intricate web that ensnared my attention from the start. The use of gradually increasing dynamics is an all-too-present cliche, but The Foetal Mind does it quite well, keeping the performance at an uncompromising high standard. Occasionally, the listener will observe a syncopated triplet from the lead guitars and rhythm section, displaying, for better rather than worse, the attention to detail given to The Grand Contraction.

This release is a good example of when over-produced and meticulous studio production works in favor of the actual songs. Listeners will not hear a different guitar effect every 45 seconds or a poorly replicated orchestra carrying a dull melody on The Grand Contraction. While the general atmosphere isn’t dark enough to depress me, it does allow me to interpret the many facets as I see fit by remaining largely instrumental and exploring the depth of the recording as well as the width.

Funeral Fornication – Pandemic Transgression

Having been familiar with Funeral Fornication in the past, I looked forward to hearing what sole-member Vultyrous had summoned for his third full length release, ‘Pandemic Transgression’. The raw production of 2008’s Murder Cult Eidolon is long gone and with it, much of the energy and musical focus that was once quite present.

I found that Pandemic Transgression falls short in the same regard as Ekove Efrits: over-production and lack of focus. For such a grandiose production and lyrical offering, the musical progression of Pandemic Transgression tends to be imbalanced, switching all-too-leisurely between ‘riffs’ or ‘passages’ that bear little semblance to one another, save for the fact that they are maybe in the same minor key. The piano is great touch when left alone but when buried under the reverb-drenched drum machine, guitar, bass, vocal and keyboard layers, it tends to be a touch over-shadowed.

For all the talk about ‘depressive’ black metal, I have found this emotion best invoked through repetition of chords, melodies or drum patterns. As soon as I found a passage in Pandemic Transgression favorable, it changed, normally into something that was much inferior to it’s precursor. I don’t know why a repetitive drone stirs such an emotion without writing a more explorative essay but I will tip my hat to the artists on Hypnotic Dirge Records for challenging the status quo, and reaching beyond the limits of the aesthetics of black metal and following their own path.

The use of language may be Funeral Fornication‘s most redeeming quality with Pandemic Transgression. Tracks like ‘Twin Suns’ and ‘The Thorn of Capricorn’ contain just enough imagery to tie the sporadic musical musings together into a coherent form, creating an atmosphere that leans more towards spiritual freedom amongst the cosmos rather than the bondage and torments of a life in flesh.

Exiled From Light – There is No Beauty Left Here

I had saved the double disc behemoth that is There is No Beauty Left Here, compilation album from New Zealand’s Exiled from Light, as the last CD from Hypnotic Dirge Records that I would review. Not being privy to 12 minute-plus songs, I knew I had a plate-full when I took a look at the albums contents. This double disc release also includes 3 bonus tracks from sole-member Mort’s side project, Funereal, providing a grand total of 2 hours and 22 minutes of dark atmospheres and haunting melodies.

When I opened the promo package, something familiar caught my attention in the cover art. My colorblind eyes have always enjoyed the harsh contrast of black and white; the xerox approach to black metal art. The gray mood presented in the minimalist booklet and storm-cloud atmosphere of the recording does well to arouse something familiar, buried in the subconscious…buried but not forgotten.

While I immediately recognized the programmed Drumkit from Hell, I decided not to deduct any points from the albums final score, since I, just like many other solitary spell-casters, made an album with its user-friendly, drag-and-drop interface. Having experienced the album, I often wonder how it may have been received with a more natural drum sound and one not so well produced. At any rate, the mood and spirit of There is No Beauty Left Here is top-notch, creating an inescapable nightmare maze of confusion and despair that the listener will be immersed in from start to finish.

I was expecting a somewhat different feel to the tracks by Funereal, but found that the tracks only varied slightly from Exiled from Light, complete with similar, if not identical drum sounds and foreboding ambiance. Although the vocals occasionally take a more guttural approach and the keyboards become a touch more prominent in the mix, I can’t understand the need for a differentiation between the two band names that sole-member Mort is creating under.  ‘Of That Which Lies Beneath’, book-ended by church bells, has a all-too-short piano and violin solo passage that would have helped set this collection of tracks apart from the album’s majority and serves as the most memorable passage that contrasts the two projects.