Review Summary: Encircling Sea release the most thorough and organic post-black metal album to date.
Encircling Sea is an black metal band hailing from Melbourne, Australia. If they were a Californian band, they would be called "Cascadian," but they aren't and so they're going to have to settle for atmospheric black metal. Their first two albums, Ecru and I, were sprawling hour long affairs that incorporated ambience and drone with black metal. There were fleeting moments of brilliance on each album, but I would often find my attention wandering and eventually I would turn them off in favor of something less long-winded.
A Forgotten Land is a major improvement over their previous work and this is the mark of a band in full blossom. They have finally deviated from their traditional sprawling LP-length track and separated the album into four acts: Yearn, Transcend, Become, and Return. Don't let that mislead you, however. You're still going to have to contend with lengthy compositions, but it seems somehow less onerous to listen to four twenty minute tracks instead of one sixty minute track. I'm sure that the improved songwriting has something to do with this phenomenon.
What makes Encircling Sea so great is how they are able to do so much with so little. Yearn begins with a simple drum pattern - crash, snare, bass - over and over again, with an eerie distorted synth quietly building atmosphere in the background. When the guitars arrive, they follow the same ideology. The same chords are played over and over, and the drums hold the same pattern until the tension builds and begs for release. Then, the drums explode into life and the pace picks up. Already the atmosphere is wrought with energy - haunting yet victorious. As Rob Allen's anguished screams emerge you begin to realize that you are listening to something very special.
Encircling Sea introduce an element, and then they slowly and progressively introduce another, then another, until the atmosphere reaches a crescendo and in this they have embraced the post-rock tradition. They have crafted each track so masterfully that the twenty minutes pass as if they were five. Each piece fits perfectly into the next - no, each piece demands the next progression. Begs for it. I know post-black metal is an objectionabe term to some, but Encircling Sea have certainly made a strong case for the genre tag.
Acoustics, female vocals, violins, and electronic components all make an appearance throughout the course of the album. Allen screams, chants, and sings. The guitar plays neofolk, progressive rock, and black metal. The drummer plays simply and hypnotically to complex and furiously. The end result is truly beautiful.
Recommended for fans of Altar of Plagues, Fauna, and Wolves in the Throne Room.