Friday, April 15, 2011

Ludicra- Fex Urbis Lex Orbis (2006)

Listening to Ludicra’s “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” is like reading a compelling novella—you quickly get caught up in the story and then bang! It’s over before you knew what hit you. The album barely breaks the 40 minute mark, but there’s absolutely no filler. Those forty minutes are an amazing down, up and back down experience that expresses a sharp, succinct series of dramatic emotions.

The production is fairly stripped down. While “Fex Urbis…” is by no means qualifies as “raw” black metal, it is certainly black metal with no frills. All the instruments are clear and audible, but there isn’t a lot of gloss or saturation in the production, which means there’s a direct, visceral presence to the music. This helps highlight the killer vocals of Laurie Sue Shanaman.  Shanaman does everything from high pitched screams to bestial growls, all of which are packed with real energy and force. Guitarist, Christy Cather adds some monotone clean vocals, which are a good change of pace and fit the slow, somber passages well.
This is Ludicra’s third album (plus an EP), and it’s obvious the band is comfortable playing together. The performance is tight and everyone does their part. While there isn’t any mind-boggling musicianship on the album, the songwriting is excellent. The songs have very little repetition, but are nonetheless coherent. Each song uses two or three basic progressions which are modified in a variety of ways through the course of the song, giving the songs fluidity and development without redundancy.
The album is brilliantly crafted into three stages, mimicking the experience of becoming consumed by emotion, bursting forth in rage and fading into an exhausted tranquility. “Dead City” starts the album with a moody doom riff, before slowly building towards quicker, more aggressive passages. Like waves of emotion, the song swings back and forth, gaining momentum, with the music becoming more and more hostile and energetic.  The end of “Dead City” leads directly into the fast and biting “In Fever,” which is full of vicious and epic black metal riffs. The entire middle passage of the album continues on an aggressive tear, showing off sharp and catchy black metal riffs and Laurie Sue Shanaman’s intense screams and roars. Softer passages show up now and then, but they feel more like the band revving up for the next outburst, as opposed to an actual calming of the music.
The album hits its epoch with the chaotic opening three minutes of “Only a Moment”.  A whirlwind of tremolo riffs swirl around layers of vicious screams and yells, all set to an extremely groovy rhythm—the type of music you can’t listen to while staying still. With nowhere to go but down, the remainder of the album shifts into a series of slow, moody passages of blackened doom accompanied by flat, eerie, singing and tired rasps. By the time the aptly named “Collapse” comes to an end, darkness and fury has transformed into a hollow indifference. The ending stretch of the album has an oddly calming effect.
In general, I highly recommend Ludicra. The band has cultivated an original blend of black metal with touches of doom and punk aesthetic. Their entire discography (with the exception of “Another Great Love Song”, which is a dud) is solid. However, “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” exhibits everything that makes this band so great in a fluid, compact, 40 minute experience.

Overall: 9/10

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Nargaroth- Spectral Visions of Mental Warfare (2011)

Nargaroth can be such a frustrating band. In the late 90s, Nargaroth looked like a new and innovative band within the black metal scene. The debut, “Herbstleyd”, is a classic that integrates the stylistic qualities of Burzum and Graveland with Kanwulf’s own taste for epic melodies.  However, it’s been a long, bumpy road since then.Black Metal Ist Kreig” is extremely generic, offering nothing that hasn’t been done before and done better. The same goes for “Prosatanica Shooting Angels”. On the other hand, “Gelibte des Regens” is one of the most repetitive albums I have ever heard. It was like Kanwulf heard “Filosofem” and thought all he needed to do to create quality hypnotic black metal was repeat a riff for fifteen minutes straight. As anyone who has sat through the laborious title track can attest, it's not that easy.

Still, there is something that always makes me come back to Nargaroth. I think it’s the fact that I always say to myself “well, it has potential”. For example, “Gelibte des Regens” does have some very nice riffs, they just don’t need to be repeated for fifteen minutes. Thus when I heard some of the ambient samples from the new album “Spectral Visions of Mental Warfare,” I figured it was worth a listen. As usual, there are promising elements and as usual, the whole the work misses the mark.

The first thing one should know about “Spectral Visions…” is that there is really only about 25 minutes of black metal on an hour long album. The rest of music is dark ambient. Dark ambient can be great when done correctly. (In fact, Kanwulf produced an excellent piece of dark ambient on “Herbstleyd”). However, most of the ambient tracks are just awful. The opening piece “Odin's Weeping for Jördh” is the best of the bunch. It is lush, solemn and soulful.  The main melody is quite beautiful and the ambient noises, though cliché (wolf, raven, and storm... the unholy trinity of black metal nature noises) create a powerful presence.
The rest of the ambient pieces split into two categories. The first are the pieces that sound like they come off some new-age bargain bin CD. Listening to “Diving Among the Daughters of the Sea”, I clike some hippy chick should be telling me about the psychic power of dolphins while realigning my chakras. Second, there are the pseudo-techno songs. These are long, repetitive electronica tracks that are too slow to dance to but too boring to just sit and listen to. No one needs to waste their time listening to Kanwulf’s FruityLoops experimentation.

On the other hand, the three black metal songs are good. Slow and solemn riffs are layered with lush keys and periodic screeches. If nothing else, Kanwulf deserves credit for having a good ear for a dramatic and moving melody. However, even here Kanwulf cannot let things be. The best riff of the entire album comes around the 4:30 mark of “A Whisper Underneath The Bark Of Old Trees”. It’s a sweeping, epic melody—expressing a controlled, reflective glory. But we don’t get to enjoy it. The entire three minute passage is overdubbed with audio of some German guy screaming, yelling and crying—in short, having a mental breakdown. Just what every amazing melody needs… a random overdub of a clip from a movie. The long, obnoxious clip ruins any potential the track has for repeat listening.

On the whole, “Spectral Visions of Mental Warfare” has its moments, but they are just too few and far between. It seems Kanwulf just cannot put together a good album without shooting himself in the foot.

Overall: 4/10