Albums You May Have Missed: Volume I

Wednesday, 6th March 2019

Welcome to a new feature: Albums You May Have Missed. In truth as I write this I don’t know if that’ll be a lasting title (or a lasting feature) but as a means of exploring things lost and passing a snow day in the NCR, here we are. Consider this in part a likely companion to Kyle’s regular feature of deep diving on Bandcamp.

As the title suggests, this is written with the idea in mind of exposing albums that likely flew under the radar when released (indeed, often very under the radar). There isn’t a particular genre element involved but the albums I’m going to feature here today all fall under the ‘atmospheric black metal’ banner as that’s unquestionably where I spend most of my metal listening time. There also isn’t an inherent time period involved though here each of the albums released in 2018.

Echtra – BardO (Temple of Torturous)
Of the three albums featured this time BardO is the one I’ve spent the most time with, having stumbled across it in mid-December. Designed firmly around ritual ideas, BardO consists of two 23 minute tracks but flows as a continuous piece throughout. This, I’ve come to find, is the standard for everything the band has produced. Whether 23 holds some sort of grand meaning or it means an album cleanly fits on a single LP, I have no way of knowing. All the same it’s been curious to see this album covered elsewhere and have its individual pieces presented as separate from one another in tangible ways.

So what of the music? Black metal is an element here but it is one of many, laced in a continual ebb and flow of tension. Acoustics and atmospherically-inclined guitar dominate from the beginning and are regular features throughout. Harsh and clean vocals both make appearances but vocals are never particularly upfront and are used as one thread among many. The tracks are titled simply “BardO I” and “BardO II”, and while not featureless, to consider them in a context outside of a continuous whole seems a grave disservice. BardO is best thought of as a journey.

There is nothing menacing about the music within BardO and I doubt its creator would take offense to that. While a rich philosophical underpinning exists within this album’s creation, I won’t spoil it here.

Curiously this the music on BardO came to be a decade ago in 2008. Whatever the reason for its lengthy gestation, it doesn’t work against the album or render it as dated. BardO, like a number of other albums I came to know over 2018, I came to know directly through exploring artists and bands tied to my favorite release of last year: Eigenlicht’s Self-Annihilating Consciousness. It’s a rewarding, long form listen and comes with my utmost recommendation.

NONE – Life Has Gone On Long Enough & Where Life Should Be… (single) (Hypnotic Dirge Records)

Everyone’s favorite caveat to ‘atmospheric black metal’: depressive black metal.

I stumbled onto NONE thanks to their first album, 2017’s self-titled NONE, largely thanks to its album cover: a fog-drenched and snowed-over oblivion, presumably somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (the band hails from Portland, Oregon). Its three tracks are a dense foray into the miserable, a proper sonic accompaniment to the album’s cover art. I found out not long after from the label that a follow up was not only in the works but would see the light of day soon.

Enter Life Has Gone On Long Enough.

In truth I missed the album release at first and several months went by before it hit my radar. Having separated from almost every form of social media, while I still keep abreast of most things, others will occasionally slip through the cracks. This album was one such victim. So it was on a humid, sticky August afternoon that I re-stumbled upon the band and thought to myself “oh god!”. Once again a stark image from likely somewhere in the remote regions of the Pacific Northwest invite the eyes to soak in misery and isolation. Life Has Gone On Long Enough embodies that isolation without fail.

Much like the self-titled, the pace here is dirge-like. Synth remains an integral part of the experience but without being kitschy, the atmosphere here is frequently suffocating. A look at the song titles tells you exactly what you’re in for: “A World, Dead and Gray”, “Life Is Long Enough”, and “Hypoxic”. This album is the sound of a funeral a week before Christmas, a barren landscape within and without its participants. It isn’t always sonically heavy nor does it always need to be. The ‘softer’ elements are no less emotionally throttling without oceans of distortion around them.
There is no pretense and there are also no real slivers of light to pierce the gray: Life Has Gone On Long Enough is the definition of mood music. It will not fit all seasons or situations and is best approached when it can be appreciated.

Unlike a great many depressive black albums of old, the sound here is robust. Everything is audible and everything carries weight. Unsurprisingly, vocals are a key part of the experience here, particularly on “Bed The Cold Earth” and “Desiderate”, the latter of which is outright devastating in its second half. Closing out the album is a cover of Burzum’s “Illa Tiðandi”. While lifted from a maligned era of the Burzum canon, thematically it fits right in and ends a bleak experience with a bleaker sense of finality. It’s fitting.

Following this up (and again I was behind the curve) was the release of the ‘single’ “Where Life Should Be…”. Composed of all of the same blocks that make up all of the Life Has Gone On Long Enough experience, it adds a couple new ones: the expression of panic and anxiety through blast beats.

Shocking not for how well it works but in that it finally made an appearance within NONE’s work. Hopefully it’s indicative of where things are going forward. “Where Life Should Be…” is dynamic in ways that Life Has Gone On Long Enough doesn’t often touch upon.

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