Review Summary: spacey, cold and beautiful.
It's not an enigma as to why space and black metal go together very well. The cold, cosmic and sometimes chaotic nature of space itself lends itself perfectly to black metal's instrumentation. When done right it's a real treat - the German Trist, Darkspace and Sun of the Blind to name a handful of truly excellent bands with equally excellent offerings. Though unfortunately I'd be hard pressed to name many more, despite it being an obvious winning formula, there's quite a lack of it, which no doubt contributes to why the aforementioned bands are held so highly in respective circles. But it's probably best if I keep mention of those bands to somewhat of a minimum due to the nature of Alrakis' music. Indeed, the cosmic element that creates a space-like aura over the aforementioned bands is here and in full swing, but Alrakis takes quite a different approach to it, and it's a refreshing change. Despite the obvious black metal influence and execution behind this album, you'd have better luck finding a blastbeat in a Fleet Foxes record. Put off? Don't be. What you get out of this record might just depend on exactly what you want out of it. If you go in hoping for a varied, chaotic black metal record you probably will leave this album wondering where the rest of it was and why only the slower tracks seemed to make the final cut.
Indeed, Alrakis goes for the almost depressive-suicidal black metal approach. The sparse reverb-laden drumbeats with the ringing tremolo riffs ala Summoning floating above them, with some subtle synths accompanying the guitarwork. This eats up a fair majority of the album. There's rather little variation between that and the (excellent) airy, cold ambient sections. Not to mention two of the longest tracks on this album are wholly ambient, a whole 25 minutes worth reserved for the quiet, soothing synths with occasional samples. Nothing feels out of balance in this mix though, because at its heart, Alpha Eri is far from a black metal album - it could even be thought of as an ambient album due to its complete and utter focus on nothing but the atmosphere. I've no doubt if it weren't for the powerful screams of the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist behind the project that people would wonder if this is black metal at all. The vocals and the production being the only things that cover this album in the unmistakable sound of black metal. Everything here sounds incredibly dark and incredibly fuzzy, but there's nothing offputting about this production style for outsiders, so those looking in with no experience won't be put off. The actual sound displayed here couldn't be any simpler - the formula of each of the metal tracks is very similar, the album staying at the same slow pace throughout its entirety. Slowly played, over-driven distorted riffs with the lovely synths floating beneath them, often being absolutely beautiful and incredibly immersible, the screams ringing above them. The linearity behind this album is beyond obvious, almost coming across as a niche product designed for those who have an affinity for the aforementioned bands - but this isn't a bad thing provided it's not taken as anything but that.
The lack of variation may bother some but this is the beauty of the record - this album inhabits one atmosphere, and it takes you through a thorough journey through that atmosphere, and it's a very lovely one that doesn't need changing. Alrakis knows that if he deviates from the original theme he may ruin the idea behind the record, which is an enjoyable and fairly unique black metal album that inhabits an aura that is sadly not capitalized on as much as it should, which makes this album a success. It helps immensely that this album's atmosphere isn't the only beautiful thing about it, the riffs themselves are wonderfully sorrowful and airy, perfectly complimenting everything else and all the while being memorable and immersive. If you go into this for an airy journey through space there really is nothing here that could disappoint you, a perfect, if unambitious, rendition of a beautiful atmosphere that many people wanted more of. For those of us who fall into that camp, here it is. Turn off the light, open the window, lay back and soar through the monochrome.
Bring a coat though, it's cold out there. :]