Review Summary: the sun is just a dream
More than probably any other genre, those creative lads who play black metal seem to have an exaggerated love for the wistful and more melancholy parts of the most beautiful art our planet can provide for us: nature. Bands like Agalloch, who’s known to have song titles like “Falling Snow” and “Dead Winter Days”, Drudkh, and Wolves in the Throne Room represent some of the more popular examples of modern black metal bands who seem to take both lyrical and even, in a sense, musical influences from poetic scenes like deserted snowy wastelands, beautiful gaping mountains, and trees dripping with multicolored leaves, with autumn ravaging the land. Of course, many lesser known bands also make music with this same sort of inspiration, but sorting through them to find the plush, non-stabbing needle in the haystack can become tiring. Thank god I was saved the trouble of looking and was recommended Coldworld’s (not to be mistaken for that terrible rap/hardcore band Cold World; this is a one-man atmospheric black-metal band from Germany) Melancholie
, an excellent slab of emotional, yet not cheesy by any means, metal that should rank as one of the better black metal albums you’ll hear all year. For me, it’s the best black metal work 2008 has offered.
My appreciation for it, which has grown in a tremendous fashion recently, might have to do with the current climate in my hometown. As I write this, snow is falling in very large quantities, joining the four or so inches that already lay peacefully on the ground. There’s no need in getting too pretentious in an unneeded account of how tranquil something as simple as snow looks; it’s easier just to say that winter is my favorite time of the year because of it, and I find it to be a season that is strengthened by musical accompaniment. Melancholie
, from its cover depiction of a ghostly figure dwarfed by a large snow-covered mountain of a tree to the title of the project--Coldworld? Pretty evident that this isn’t music you play during a summer visit to the beach--is the type of musical accompaniment that I mean. Lo-fi in production, but not so bad it’s unbearable, Melancholie
is around forty-five minutes of ambient guitar passages, fast-paced and rather “raw” riffs, Georg Borner’s impressively evil vocals, and added instrumentation such as organs, synthesizers, bells, violins, and even a male choir, all to add to that “atmospheric” sort of thing that Borner was obviously going for here. A lot of black metal albums with that sort of goal in mind--to make something that’s pleasant and emotionally-resonating as well as brutal and metal
--often get lost in their own pretentions and soul-searching, rendering the album too personal for the listener to gain a foothold. These albums are frustrating, as the artist obviously have the right intentions, but just sort of fail in the execution, for lack of a more detailed description. Where those albums fail, though, Melancholie
For one thing, Melancholie
doesn’t get too lengthy or too pretentious to follow; in fact, anyone with any sort of post-rock or ambient listening in their history can find the oft-changing soundscapes provided here to be rather relatable. There are moments of straight-up black metal, with Borner screaming his head off and riffing furiously, producing that sort of sound in his guitar playing in which you swear you can hear all sorts of other instruments in the mix, even though they’re not even there. But there are moments of breathless beauty in here as well, from the guitar ambience that opens the beginning epic “A Dream of A Dead Sun” that jumps into a synth-specked black metal frenzy, to the heavily ambient and the most post-rock influenced song of the bunch, named “Red Snow”. The latter track in particular acts as the centerpiece of the album, an eight minute epic that never becomes repetitive and creeks and groans with moments of aggression and swells near the end to a just-near-overwhelming bombast of choirs, synthesizers, and violins, along with the traditional boatloads of guitar static. The track fades on the same ambience that began the album, and segues into the next, equally as excellent track, the ambient interlude “Stille”, acting as a sort halfway-point of Melancholie
. It might be pertinent to know that the remainder of the album is just as excellent as the first half, with tracks like “Hymn to Eternal Frost” adding a sort of symphonic element in substitution for the atmospheric elements found elsewhere on Melancholie
. “Escape”, the final track on the album, is unfortunately only a half-way suitable closer. Its slow build-up from its boring introduction to its much more kick-ass middle is definitely a highlight on the album, though the ending transitions back as a repeat of the boring introduction. And it doesn’t work any better during the second time around.
As much as I want to call this an superb album, brand it with a 4.5, and be done with it, there are some glaring flaws to be found here that cannot go without mention. Although it’s customary of black metal releases, the production is rather lackluster. Everything can be heard rather well, which I guess is a plus when compared to albums by Paysage d’Hiver and the like, but the more stereotypically “epic” feel that the album pulls off so well would be enhanced to the point of near-perfection if the more murky parts of the production were tuned up a bit. There are also points, like the ones I mentioned during my précis of “Escape”, where all those additional effects Borner adds in don’t formulate a very balanced equation, and fail conceptually. But these are obviously minor quips, enough to keep Melancholie
from cracking my top-ten for this year, but not enough to edge out Darkspace as the best this year has to offer in black metal. Combining accessibility and depthless musical talent, Melancholie
is an extremely impressive debut from a young talent that shouldn’t go unnoted by any music obsessive. It might take another album, but it won’t be long before Borner begins to become as well-known as he can get in his scene.