Review Summary: A few patches are easily forgiven when the music’s this good. Austere have created one of the finest atmospheric black metal pieces of the year.
Perhaps it’s the fact that country Australia gets no rain. Perhaps it’s the fact that the trees cannot grow and the wildlife have departed to coastal areas. Whatever it is, Austere have captured the dry, epic atmosphere of a barren landscape and replaced the traditional Norwegian forest with “the sticks”. This is a depressive, epic black metal release with some of the grandest instrumentations, likely to urn
them some well-deserved respect.
That realization is quick to notice. A minute thirty in, the passive instrumental album-opener is over, tricking you into turning up the volume before To Fade With the Dusk
hits you with a priest-brain-stained club, bringing you to your knees. It’s hard not to crack a smile in these opening minutes, especially as we are introduced to the tormented banshee wail of the drowning vocalist. The black metal sound is different. It’s unlike the angry nihilistic apocalypse heard on other black metal releases. It’s not even similar to other atmospheric black metal productions. This is much slower, much more free-flowing, with aching guitar-driven explorations and beautiful pain-filled compositions. The album seems to have conceptual roots in delivering an experience of being lost in a desolate environment, void of light and happiness. It’s in this motif that the album shines; pulling listeners into the manifestation of something evil.
If To Fade With the Dusk
was twice as good as the rest, it would still make a fine album. Brilliant riffs are given the time to expand until the sound peaks as a sonic account of passionate agony. This sound could be arguably described as a soulless orchestra more akin to a black metal interpretation of “Hymns to the Immortal Wind” than anything resembling something influenced by the mighty Varg. As the song progresses, the drums become more explorative, the guitars more treacherous and the screams more hollowing, until the next track, This Dreadful Emptiness
, kicks in slowing things down until crashing into a pit of emptiness, before starting up again with passionate atmosphere and tearing screams. It’s this moment that the band is at its finest, rotating the solos around so each instrument has an opportunity at expressing its own misery. Snare drums, guitars, cymbals, bass drum; they all get a round. The way this song falls, and then picks up again, only to be more bleak and atmospheric as before is amazing. Not wanting to sound like we’ve stumbled upon the magnum opus of 2009 metal, it’s hard to think the band could go wrong from here, especially considering the title track is next.
Somewhere within To Lay Like Old Ashes
, someone decided it would be a good idea to start implementing some clean vocals. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, however at that moment, it really didn’t suit. It’s like saying, “Hey, we’re half way through our awesome title track and because this song is the amalgamation of everything this album stands for, we’ll throw in some of those experimental cleans we were using in the fifth track to show how ***ing diverse we can be”. It hurts that these cleans have been included to disrupt a song that was coasting along very nicely (if ever a depressive black metal song could be ‘nice’), but it’s the delivery of these cleans which is most worrying. I must keep stabbing myself in the ear to remind me that this is an unheard of band with only their second album, not bloody Shining’s “VI”. The band doesn’t have a good clean vocalist and the inclusion of this aspect has been detrimental to their success. What must be realised is that up until this point, the vocals have consisted of a shrill holler which is looped over and over to stick it to the listener that they are stuck in an endless, torturous fix. Surprisingly, it works rather well, and is one of the main attractions and dependents in creating the unique sound.
Instead of pushing you into the fire to show how angry they really can be, Austere have built upon ideas to slowly reveal the full extent of their soul-enveloping bereavement. This can be seen on Just For a Moment…
that slow-boils the listener, gradually increasing in hostility until we hearken a true wonder capable of holding your full attention. This song is plagued with the infamous cleans, although is more than solid in an album that defies
The last track is over twenty minutes long and for some reason, it hinted at being the most epic black metal song ever. I’m not going to give it away, but don’t get your hopes up, because the stellar performance has not been replicated in the last track, which is repetitious, useless and significantly under-performed. Although, it doesn’t matter because at 54 minutes, this album provides plenty of terrific black metal with (disregarding the last track) no filler.
The raw emotion on this album is perfect in creating something so epic and heart-felt that it is hard to understand that this is only the band’s second full-length album. Unlike other ABM acts, Austere have honoured their musicianship by allowing a virtually clean production. They’re not aiming for angry. Not even misery. The atmosphere is simply wrought to a life of neglect and loneliness. Burzum re-incarnated, this is not, however it is a stunning outlet for entertaining, epic, black metal and a worthy addition for any fan of the genre.
Austere’s “To Lay Like Old Ashes” is out Februrary 27, 2009 via Eisenwald Records