Review Summary: hail mother nature m/Alda
used to be just another band involved in an increasingly stagnant Cascadian black metal scene. While their self-titled debut and their demo certainly were relatively enjoyable listens, they were monotonous and uninteresting. This mysterious act used to be undistinguished from the multitudes of similar collectives who adorned their covers with serene nature snapshots and sung about wind, evergreens, spirits, and mountains. However, Tahoma
is a remarkable effort: one that came out of a band that no one expected anything truly worthy of note, yet somehow, Alda
have managed to craft one of 2011's most powerful atmospheric black metal efforts to date.
One of Tahoma
's most endearing aspects is the extent to which it improves on 2009's Alda
. While the six tracks on the self-titled ranged from 4 to 6 minutes in length, Tahoma
spans five tracks over 50 minutes, each varying in duration from an 8-minute acoustic piece to an epic 14-minute closer. Amazingly, with their lengthening of run times, Alda
have actually created something infinitely more concise and to-the-point that that which came before it. Even in the longest and most meandering tremolo-picked sections and in the most self-indulgent acoustic folk passages, Alda
keep the listener thoroughly enthralled. This may be due to the album's ability to seamlessly weave emotion and power into every moment of every riff, sculpting sings that not only appeal to the listener's "music sense," but to his or her spirit. This was the largest issue with Alda
: while the songs were masterfully performed and a lack of ideas was not an overwhelming issue, Alda
never provided any reason for the listener to remain captivated for more than 30 seconds.
Not only is Tahoma
a record that showcases a tremendous maturation in songwriting ability for this Cascadian act, but it is also one that manages to incorporate the band's influences into their music much
more seamlessly than they did into their previous efforts. The most obvious draw here is that on Panopticon
. Lundr was not the first artist to meld purely acoustic folk passages into black metal, but he was the man who made it such a popular technique. Alda
take this to the next level through respites from the album's frantic tremolo riffs in the form of soaring and beautiful sections of unrefined acoustic bliss, even choosing to write Shadow of the Mountain
: a largely successful 8-minute journey of peaceful acoustic meandering serving as a breather before the epic 14-minute Wandering Spirit
that follows. Another major influence present is the Explosions In the Sky
-style post-rock sensibilities of Woods of Desolation
. While Alda
do not rely on repetitive strings of lush, often major-key chords like the aforementioned black metallers do, these moments seep in through the constant barrage of distortion throughout Tahoma
. This is especially notable in Tearing of the Weave*
: an absolutely magnificent track that, after assaulting the listener with unrelenting riffs for its first half, transitions into a peaceful folk section. This, in turn, leads to a sudden dwell of distortion, with hugely powerful major-key chords providing an epic finale to an epic song.
One would be forgiven if he or she were not convinced of Tahoma
's merit by now. Folk passages and post-rock builds are anything but unheard of in the black metal acts of the Pacific Northwest: in fact, their use and abuse translate into an unrequited derision towards the bands by a sizable portion of the black metal community. This makes it exceedingly difficult to convey through writing exactly what Alda
got right this time around. They surely did something
right on their latest release, for how else could it be such a thoroughly engaging and engrossing album? It could be their songwriting prowess (something lacked by many of their contemporaries); it could be their restraint. The acoustic sections are not pretentious, the occasional clean vocals are not of questionable sexuality, and the nature-obsessed character of the collective is not overwhelmingly obnoxious. Like the mighty volcano that is its namesake, Tahoma
is an epic journey. It is serene and beautiful one minute, and violent and explosive the moment your back is turned, but even in its most intense moments it conveys a sense of power and awe unmatched by any other existing natural forces (or Cascadian metal acts). But in the end, writing cannot accurately convey what Tahoma
gets right. The only way to discover it is to pick this up for yourself and prepare to be wowed by one of 2011's strongest black metal efforts.
*There seems to be an issue here in that while some downloads and tracklistings contain only 4 tracks, others include a fifth called "Tearing of the Weave" between Adrift and Shadow of the Mountain. I cannot figure out why at this time, although I will let you all know if I find anything.