Review Summary: It's hard to use the word "beautiful" in relation to anything that even brushes against black metal, but it's entirely apt in this case. Angst is a beautiful record.
If you were to pluck the forbearers of the Norwegian black metal scene out of the early 90s and drop them in front of a collection of 2010-era "blackgaze", there's a good chance the majority of them would hang up their spiked gauntlets and monochromatic makeup collection. What started off as inaccessible music from the fringes of the fringes has blossomed to a scene that encompasses the icy misanthropes as well as the Starbucks hipsters. In recent years, the latter has seen the greatest growth, with bands like Deafheaven, Agalloch, and even the much-maligned Liturgy receiving significant critical attention.
Todtgelichter, a name that's both a nightmare to pronounce and the reason Google has its "Did you mean..." feature, peddle in that post-blackgaze area that a number of bands inhabit. The cover of Angst is about as far from "black metal" as one can get without drowning in pink a la Sunbather, and song titles like "Cafe of Lost Dreams" and "Neon" leave the listener expecting a quietly contemplative indie rock album. Oddly enough the word "rock" fits in places, as the opening riff to "Cafe of Lost Dreams" doesn't exactly scream "black metal".
But black metal it is, and black metal it shall be reviewed as. Let's move on.
Todtgelichter's bag of tricks is impressive in its depth. On this album there are the hallmarks of black metal, tremolo picking and double kick drums, but also straight-up riffing, frail little passages, great chunks of clean singing, and even a dang organ player (who provides the clean female vocals). On the subject of vocals, these are not the high pitched shrieks of Burzum or the choked-off screams of Mayhem, Todtgelichter prefers their harsh vocals in the Shining (SWE) vein, a more powerful, throaty howl that gives the music a sense of urgency and honesty over intentional "menace".
Once again, though, this is "blackgaze" which means the tremolo picking and harsh vocals are set in counterpoint with soft passages and clean singing. "Neon", taken by itself, sounds like it could be on a different album entirely. The distorted guitars take a back seat to a melodic riff that sits atop a light and jazzy drum lick while the female vocalist croons. At least for the first five and a half minutes. Then, after a quiet interlude, in comes the tremolo, in comes the rolling kick drums, and our screams. The important thing, however, is that these aren't two disparate elements stitched together in a Frankenstein's monster fashion. Instead, they grow and build on one another.
What works best about Angst is there's no standard formula to the song structure. Some start off running and have clean breaks, others begin soft and grow into louder, heavier passages. Each track has similar set pieces (screams here, singing there, blast beats here, quiet guitars there) but they're ever shuffling and weaving in and out of one another. This isn't a case of following a template, adopting the style because it's how it's "supposed" to be done. Angst is very much an organic piece.
The tone of the album is well described by the album cover. It's a blue album, not centered on rage as much as sorrow, and a romantic sorrow (not that the songs are about love) rather than wintry depression. Even at its most scathing, the songs have melody behind them, minor key melodies ground out that still retain their flow despite the screaming and distortion. It's hard to use the word "beautiful" in relation to anything that even brushes against black metal, but it's entirely apt in this case. Angst is a beautiful record.
Production is a point of contention in black metal and its related subsubgenres. Some modern black metal bands attempt to capture the old lo-fi "necro" production of black metal from its original days, and that can work depending on style, but Todtgelichter take the route of lush, full production. The instruments are fully separate from one another, drums swirl and resonate, the guitar is more than a treble-fest, and the bass is even recognizable (though not prominent). It makes for a much more enjoyable experience overall, allowing the listener to pull in every tiny bit of nuance from the compositions, of which there are many.
All in all, if you're a fan of bands like Les Discrets or Lantlos, you'll want to add Angst to your collection.