Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ü2K6: Quicksilver

Commonalities amongst the next three bands: All have female singers. All are popular in the metal community. All are from Europe. Yet amongst them, they feature one rising star, one unknown, and one established juggernaut; they hail from different countries; they play different subgenres of metal; and they have differing numbers of band members. Here are the next three bands in Ü2K6: Arivia's 25 Musical Days To Christmas.

19. Melencolia Estatica - Melencolia Estatica

Melencolia Estatica is a one-woman black metal project from Italy. Generally, one-person black metal projects no one's heard of aren't worth listening to. Without someone else to balance them, they usually get lost in an attempt to really exemplify one of black metal's thematic attributes: frostbite, wolves, "acquitted by reason of insanity", whatever. Melencolia Estatica does a very good job of avoiding that sort of excess, instead keeping things tight and in control. There's plenty of thematics to go around: she spends half the album screaming at someone about something, and "Meditatio IV" is a wonderful exercise in the proper usage of instrumental/choral interludes in metal (and especially how to grow them into a full-power attack).

Make no mistake: Melencolia Estatica is a very hard album to stomach, but for the field it's in, it's a great effort. The only reason this is at 19 is the production: bad production is par for the course in black metal, but I only hand out good marks for bad production when it's actually adding something to the music (like in Emperor's "The Ancient Queen"). Here, it doesn't add much, and I really wish there was more heft so that I could understand the magnitude of what is emanating from my speakers. Still, one-person black metal projects don't generally fix this "problem": pick this up if black metal is your thing.

Buy it at the artist link above.

18. To-Mera - Transcendental

This band deserves a cookie. In and of themselves, prog metal and goth metal are usually such divas that they won't even talk to each other, but To-Mera not only get them to say "hi", they get them to kiss and make up. Subgenre mixtures are common amongst metal bands, but no one's combined these two, and that's what makes Transcendental so unique (and so good).

Goth metal and prog metal can kill albums. Both are very very easy to get lost in the excesses of (usually pointless overuse of either emotion or virtuosity). They conveniently share the same core of instruments, and To-Mera use that to great effect, switching back from one to the other multiple times within a song (and using a wonderfully thick guitar tone to tie it together). There are some wonderful sections on offer here: "Dreadful Angel" mixes a progressive crescendo with gothic tones to really inject a feeling of doom into the proceedings, while "Realm Of Dreams" slides a quiet interlude into experimentation. These differing sections also help keep the album grounded: the balance between the two prevents any excesses.

Still, Transcendental is not without error. The sections are wonderful, but there's a lack of glue holding some of them together, leaving a patchwork feel. Similarily, there's a proliferance of "just goth" or "just prog" sections. However, for a first-time effort by a band going off the beaten path, problems like this are nothing new. (See Opeth.) I'm really looking forward to what To-Mera does in future.

Buy it here.

17. The Gathering - Home

Special note: If you're going to pick up one album you haven't heard of previously off this list, make it this one.

The Gathering aren't even metal any more. They used to be. Up until 1995's Mandylion, they played a competent mixture of doom and death. After Mandylion, everything changed: The Gathering charted a course and set sail for the land of atmospheric rock. Along the course of 5 albums (Mandylion, 1997's Nighttime Birds, 1998's How To Measure A Planet?, 2000's if_then_else, and 2003's Souvenirs), they've played around in that headspace, with various degrees of success (depending upon whom you talk to).

Previous efforts have been mostly experimental, with the band trying out different textures, forms, and even arrangements. if_then_else was one end of the scale: songs like "Shot To Pieces" went so far as to build a foundation upon fundamentally metal distorted riffing, while Souvenirs emphasized quiet thematics so much that the guitar seemed almost forgettable. On Home, the band finally rests, taking the best of previous efforts and melding it into a coherent whole. "Waking Hour" showcases a strength in the rhythm section not seen since if_then_else, but balances that off with Souvenirs' careful keyboard usage and pacing to balance drive and emotion.

Those of you who haven't listened to The Gathering before are in for a treat here: Anneke Van Giersbergen's voice is angelic throughout Home, seamlessly shifting from lament to musing as necessitated. The Gathering are one of rock's most underrated bands due to their metal origin: don't let this blossom pass you by.

Buy it here.

Next: Oranges!

1 comment:

Roland said...

You deserve a cookie, too! I second the Home endorsement, and there should be some live stuff from the Gathering appearing soon.

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