Review Summary: A feminine expression of the anguish of the soul.
Sharing the pacific coast with Agalloch, a fair aesthetic comparison should made musically between Ludicra and the aforementioned. Both share drummer Aesop Dekker and both bands lay on the same outer-fringe of black metal's more artful side. However the similarities essentially end there. Ludicra was a female fronted band from Oakland, California that disbanded in 2011, following the release of their fourth LP, The Tenant. With delicate compositions and a robust and diverse soundscape, this album stands as an under-appreciated progressive black metal masterpiece.
The Tenant's most apparent strengths lie in its ability to balance not only its emotional expression but the diverse range of influences that sculpt Ludicra's sound. From a songwriting standpoint, nothing here is presented in excess yet nothing is so fleeting it leaves the listener unsatisfied, and thanks to impressive musicianship there is a bevy of emotional contrast to work with. This much is made clear by the end of the opening track "Stagnant Pond", that seamlessly switches between emotionally charged riffing and enchanting choruses, all rounded out by an uplifting and wonderfully executed guitar solo. Another point made very clear early on is that the band isn't one to settle for repetitive passages, instead The Tenant stands as a relentlessly captivating ride that keeps the ball rolling for its entire 50 minute duration.
With subtle hints of celtic folk presenting itself in the music theory, each instrument and vocal style is used to its most impactful emotive effect. With the singing, both the torturous harsh screams and witchlike cleans, being handled by the female fraction of the band, each element is enacted with more emotion than most of their male counterparts could hope to muster. This resonating humanity within the album is only further compounded when the two are layered together, creating a vividly frantic and mysterious vibe that follows the listener like shadow throughout.
Themed around the idea of entrapment within a crumbling society, and the resulting hinderance of one's psychological sanctity, The Tenant deals primarily is drug addiction, despair and hopelessness. When coupled with the poetically misanthropic lyrics, the beautiful album cover and expressive liner art that depict the band members trapped behind apartment windows, rattles the soul to the core. The contrast mentioned earlier is beautifully presented in the dynamic between topic and atmosphere, the latter of which is a rather a freeing and cleansing experience. This dynamic is the ultimate epitomization of escapism, one whose forlorn imagery lies in clear sight, but is effervescently veiled by a convincing sense of hope that seemingly lies in far off lands, real and imaginary.
They are human herds of patience
They slouch and shift their weight
They remain in the cracks
They remain in the fray
Frowned up are the weak and worn
For they reek of sick and sorrow
For an album so consumed by its own emotionally heavy atmosphere, The Tenant's musical expression never strays from being anything but smooth, creamy and audibly delicious. This much at least could be compared to Sweden's Shining, who play also play a unique brand of hard rock-tinted depressive black metal. The bass is always present in the mix and does wonders at driving the guitars by keeping everything moving gallant and consistent pace. The guitar work is nothing short of impressive as every single note on the album is carefully placed to yield its utmost emotional impact, and there is no shortage of passion of to be found with Ludicra's axe-wielders, hosting tasteful acoustics and irresistibly metal riffs. Despite the consistency of the album's sound, it is very instrumentally diverse, with each track having many standalone moments of brilliance that make it instantly memorable. Moments like the galloping riffs found on the longest track, "The Undercaste" or the impactful progressions from forceful rhythms of to regal open chords found on "Clean White Void", which also features the strongest guitar solo on the album.
Aesop Dekker, who has worked extensively with Agalloch (and a ton of other bands) handles the drumming on this album, and anyone familiar with the band's work will be able to instantly pull comparisons both stylistically and aesthetically with newer releases like Marrow Of The Spirit. Seldom falling prey to tasteless blast beating, the majority of the album dotted with percussion that uses curious insertions of syncopation make itself standout, all the while taking great strides to accentuate the lead guitar's blistering riffs. Of course when called up, tastefully executed blast beats make appearance and always do nothing short of charge the music like a lightening bolt. To make an album this successful it takes more than passion and keen instrumentation alone. To pull a work of art like this, the communication between the instruments is key, and Ludicra do so better than just about everyone in the genre.
Combining a hauntingly beautiful femine touch and tastefully artful expression, Ludicra's final masterwork is a musical achievement unto itself. One that highlights every redeeming quality of the black metal while discarding all the needlessly opaque layers of angst that plague the genre. The Tenant is an epic contrast of damnation and salvation, of hope and despair. It feels as though this was something the members of Ludicra -needed- to write. Something this passionate simply can't come from anywhere but the very heart of one's soul.