Review Summary: I see distance in your eyes...
It’s a curious thing that a band’s frontman could have his back turned to the stage, for almost the entirety of his band's performance, and yet put on one of the most gripping and genuine shows you would ever see. Colin H. van Eeckhout and the rest of Amenra show us that the pain, the suffering, the raw emotion, and the abyssal qualities of their music, often cliches of the genre, are anything but insincere or stale.
On a personal note, the first time I had listened to Amenra was just a few months ago before they were to open for Converge and Neurosis. I had heard of the band before but never ended up giving them a listen. Once I gave them a chance, it felt as if the music was just not clicking with me and the vocal delivery was hard to enjoy. I decided I would still go to catch their set, maybe there was just something I was missing that would hit me. And hit me they did. There is something to be said for a band that can express so much through their live music and their movements. Not to sound cliche myself, but it is almost as if Amenra are not playing the music, the music flows out from inside them, channeled through their bodies and instruments and we are just lucky to be in the way. Their albums immediate clicked with me after the performance, and I have been trying to devour everything they have put out.
sees Amenra take the listener through some of their darkest and heaviest material to date, while also exploring the band at their most beautiful. Eeckhout’s unusually tortured vocal delivery often gives way to a cleaner, almost choral, approach on this album. That is not to say that this has not been the case since the Belgium band formed back in 1999, however, Eeckhout seems to have taken on a stronger and more confident quality this time around. It would seem that after a number of years touring acoustically, as well as with his solo project CHVE, Eeckhout has moved beyond the almost timid and fragile quality that we can hear on tracks such as ".Razoreater." on [i]Mass IIII[I/]. While his performance has technically improved, that quality of fragility added an extra layer of feeling to an album that we do not see here. Again, this is not a bad thing in of itself, it is just different.
As Amenra has always used a contrasting light/heavy approach, it had seen like they had fallen into a formula with their songwriting. Three out of the four main tracks on Mass VI
feature the band using a heavy-light-heavy or light-heavy-light song structure, which can sometimes repeat in the song. This is not to say Amenra cannot change it up or keep the music interesting, even with this predictability. They are strong and interesting enough songwriters to continually keep us on our toes. Just because they may have a formula that works well does not mean they are just tacking such elements onto each song in Mass VI
. Instead, the band was able to beautifully weave these different movements into the music. They are a natural element of the songs, not a forced or an unnecessary addition to Mass VI
The album is highlighted by the track “A Solitary Reign” which stands above songs such as, “.Razoreater.,” “.Am Kreuz.,” and “A Mon Ame” among others, as their best effort yet. It is almost overwhelming trying to describe how powerful, how effective, just how chill-inducing these nine minutes are. Eeckhout's clean vocals drive through most of the song, a break from any formula they may have, and their biggest risk taken on the album. While his screamed vocals take a back seat they fill out the song and add a depth that would otherwise be missing. The same can be said for bassist Levy Seynaeve who uses an incredibly effective guttural growl on the song. It has been five years since Amenra released their last full length in Mass V
, and “A Solitary Reign” alone made it all worth it. If this is the final album we see Amenra put out, which is an actual possibility per the ever-cryptic and philosophical Eeckhout, it is one of the highest notes a musician or group of musicians could hope to go out on.
While Mass VI
is not for everyone, with vocals that can be hard to swallow even for fans of the genre, it is a monumental accomplishment deserving of our attention. A primal, ritualistic, punishing, and spiritually intense album; Eeckhout, Bossu, Seynaeve, Lebon, and Vandekerckhove prove once again that Amenra is an absolute force.
Please note that there are two entirely different mixes on the album, some songs not only sound different but have different lengths. This review, while not going too in depth intp each song, focuses on the US version that was released through Neurot.