Review Summary: El-Ahrairah’s debut is an exercise in repetitive songwriting, but unfortunately not much more.
After years of inactivity, Minnesota’s El-Ahrairah returned in May of 2016 with not only their first proper full-length but also their first release in several years. While the band’s initial handful of demos were comprised of mostly ultra-raw, ultra-noisy black metal, the newly reformed band’s debut album features a drastically tamer, cleaner sound. This comparatively quieter style allows the listener to clearly hear all parts of the music, as opposed to their being blended together in a frantic cacophony. While this change in sound does allow the band to better highlight the more melodic aspects of their songwriting (as the melodies can be clearly heard now), the lack of constant static booms and hisses only seems to reveal how one-dimensional their approach really is.
is an exercise in simple, repetitive songwriting. Most songs seem to utilize a simple songwriting method, often repeating one lead guitar riff (the “verse” riff), followed by another lead (the “chorus” riff), both being accompanied by a drum beat that changes little throughout each track’s duration (if at all). This “riff cycle” of two repeats for the majority of each track, perhaps slightly varying by the track’s end. As the songs progress, additional elements are sometimes introduced to provide a sense of musical progression--whether they be a synth melody, a harmonized lead, or a bridge section with an entire riff of its own--all while the original rhythms and riffs continue to play again and again.
While the idea of slowly building onto songs as they progress is itself--at least in theory--a novel-sounding idea for a black metal band to try, El-Ahrairah never seem to go far enough with it to get their songs to actually go anywhere. It’s as if El-ahrairah
is meant to function as the stretching of the band’s creative wings after years of inactivity; instead of springing back to life and leaping for the sky by indulging in new and interesting songwriting directions, they seem (for now) like they’re only interested in playing it safe and testing their abilities by composing simpler pieces that only flirt with new ideas--just to see if they’ve still “got it” as a band at all. And they do for the most part still “got it”; each of the individual tracks on El-Ahrairah
is fairly straightforward, accessible (though crude) black metal that is far more pleasant than offensive to the ears.
The problem is simply the repetition of this same problematic songwriting schtick that never allows tracks to fully come into their own, and cuts them off before they’re ever given a chance to ripen properly. Taken on their own, each track is fairly competent, albeit rather unexciting. Taken together, though, the pieces feel like an unfinished album--more like a demo still needing to be fleshed out before being put to tape. While opener “Stone Throwers” and “They Wore the Wind”, for example, function well as a simple fast black metal tracks, slower pieces like “Gates of Dawn” and “Drown Alone” feel as if they’re waiting to be taken somewhere more interesting and just keep playing the same rhythms in the hopes of getting there, though they run out of gas before that’s ever able to happen. El-Ahrairah is a competent band; they know how to compose interesting riffs and melodies, and they’ve found an interesting songwriting schtick to play around with.
They just need to figure out how to use