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.