Review Summary: same same, but different
Amenra are going through some changes.
The Belgians have not become an alternative post-bossa nova band though - they still go with the whole sludgy doomy post-metal aesthetic - but have decided to distinguish their seventh record from the previous ones and mark a new step in their history. Let's go through how exactly De Doorn
represents a transformation:
1. Bassist Levy Seynaeve, member since 2012, left the band to focus on his two other projects: the Flemish black metal band Wiegedood, and death metal supergroup Living Gate - featuring members from Oathbreaker and YOB.
2. It's the first Amenra album released on a major record label, Relapse Records.
3. It's entirely sung in Flemish, the dialect spoken in Belgium's Flanders region.
4. It's the first non-Mass
Of all four points, the last one is the most important, as it's the only one constituting an anomaly. Indeed, this is not the first time a member has left the group, they have already signed to different record labels, and they have been experimenting with languages their whole career. However, this is the first non-Mass
Amenra album. Now that's something truly new.
is not a mass. It's a ritual.
At least that's only how they created it: it was composed following the "Fire Ritual" - two outdoor 2019 concerts organized at the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Ghent to celebrate the band's twenty years of existence. Both shows featured constructions, respectively wooden structures, and a bronze statue surrounded by a pyre. The public could slip through messages or notes containing acknowledgments before setting them on fire as an act of accepting loss and grief; the whole burning becoming a cleansing rite soundtracked by De Doorn
's future songs.
At first sight though, De Doorn
does not frankly depart musically speaking from the Mass
musical canon. It's still relying on an impeccable balance between ominous sludge, atmospheric doom, and calmer moments. Opener "Ogentroost" and its very Amenra slow building is tempo-broken by a more galloping riff, allowing the doomy litany concluding the track to feel more powerful. "De Evenmens" is likewise a rollercoaster, Bjorn Lebon's smashing cymbals leading a post-metal charge of crashing riffs - courtesy of founder Mathieu J. Vandekerckhove and Lennart Bossu - before calming down halfway in a short respite, the whole lot sounding immaculate thanks to new bassist and producer Tim de Gieter.
While this description might lead to think this sounds like typical Amenra - well, technically, it is -, De Doorn
balances it differently within the album's runtime. The explosions are no less impactful than before, but they are rarer, the band allowing themselves more space to create a softer atmosphere with ambient passages. It's however not on how the band utilizes space that this record becomes unique within Amenra's mythology. Truly, where De Doorn
distinguishes itself sonically, it's on its newfound approach to vocals. Spoken words already were present in the band's catalog, but never have they been more prominent - "De Dood In Bloei" featuring zero harsh vocals -, but most importantly, more diversified. Whereas previous works employed them during calm moments, "De Evenmens" sees Van Eeckhout declaim what sounds like a prophetic tale in the midst of an apocalyptic doom liturgy, his delivery as well as the Flemish dialect only reinforcing the ritual lineage of the song's inception. Yet, in terms of vocals, da real MVP comes in the person of Caro Tanghe, who's registered as an official member of this album. Oathbreaker's vocalist perfectly fits within the band's aesthetic - thanks captain obvious - and complements as well Van Eeckhout's vocal proposition. It's indeed when they join forces as a duo that the album reaches its most beautiful moments, whether it's when Van Eeckhout's spoken voice and Tanghe's almost imperceptible vocalizations softly guide the opening of "Voor Immer", or when their superimposed shrieking power concludes the colossal "Het Gloren". This highest focus on vocals nevertheless isn't perfectly balanced. "Voor Immer" allowing half of its time to spoken word might not be the best use of time given the band's ability to invoke a crushing atmosphere. It's an artistic choice, one that can - and should - be criticized, but one that ultimately depends on the listener's goodwill.
At the end of the day, the goal to channel a ritualistic performance and experience a cathartic is of course achieved - what did you expect, the band's all about that. But that's precisely the thing: the band's all about that. While it offers a slightly different perspective of the band's sound, it doesn't feel
more or less impacting. It's as fucking impacting as ever. Simply because Amenra always was about catharsis, about going into the deepest depths of our subconscious and let pain be the catalyst of our future well-being. They just found a new way to do it.
Maybe that's the thing with Amenra: they may change how they do it, but they will never change how we feel it.