Review Summary: Experimental black metal with a fetish for the paranormal.
In an interview with Decibel Magazine, El-Ahrairah guitarist, vocalist, and underground USBM mastermind Travis Nordahl had this to say in regards to the lyrical themes and concepts of the band’s new self-titled record, “Each track on this album has a location that holds significance in my life and was inspired by paranormal experiences. Seeing headlights blazing through motel curtains in a dream state, the feeling of my tongue swollen with fear from an unseen presence behind me, the sight of four men dressed head-to-toe in grey cloth standing motionless in a field surrounded by hundreds of crows.” The occasional pessimist in me immediately wrote Nordahl off a bit reading that. I’m not a believer in the paranormal. I like my ghosts in ghost movies, not in reality. But at that time I hadn’t even experienced his music yet, this was just a touch of preparatory research before tackling the debut opus I’d heard a few whisperings about. Neither did this dissuade me in any way, it’s just not reasonable to write off music by the personality of the creator. In a way, Nordahl’s “out-there” imaginings make El-Ahrairah
all the more intriguing. The lyrics are often sparse, set on painting vivid, ambiguous imagery and then leaving it there for the listener to digest. Nordahl seems to understand that the mystery is the most drawing aspect here, and he handles it with aplomb. Particularly, “They Wore The Wind” is a frighteningly veiled thing that doesn’t really go anywhere, but sends a shiver up your spine all the same. Most of these songs feature captivating stories and obscure dream sequences that we can thank Nordahl for being “out-there” enough to toss in, even if I still think he’s a little nutty. But it’s worth it.
For all my talk about Nordahl’s lyrical input, it’s the music on El-Ahrairah
that does most of the talking. It may be the band’s first full length, but these guys are far from being fresh blood in black metal. El-Ahrairah
was preceded by a slew of demos from as far back as 2009, and it plays out with the touch of veterans. There’s a fluidity here, one that’s necessary to tie the disparate elements here together. It’s effortless how both noisy, crashing soundscapes and a blackgaze slant on melody is fused, all the while shifting through so many phases that the only tag that can stick is “experimental”. One moment, particularly in the album’s early reaches, the guitars will be grinding monstrosities under the howling vocals, and the next they can deliver hypnotic passages reminiscent of Ash Borer. “Gates of Dawn” features strangely upbeat and rousing drumming that could fit in with old school country or folk, but drives distorted riffs and blackened screaming instead. And it works. There’s nothing here that feels like it doesn’t belong; anything new is just another trick Nordahl and company can pull out without issue. While the music is exceptional and the lyrics intriguing, it’s important that they complement each other, something else El-Ahrairah has covered. Case in point, booming background percussion that somehow seems both within the mix and separate from it on “Stone Throwers” magically emulates the title characters, sounding eerily like the crash of the stones they throw.
I could keep going with the good choices taken on El-Ahrairah
(like the fact that it’s intensely concise for its style...sorry, couldn’t resist tossing one more in there), but I’m just beating a dead horse. There’s simply little to nothing wrong with El-Ahrairah
, it’s a momentously creative and unceasingly engaging slab of experimental black metal that was far, far too long in the making.