Album: Mass V
Release Date: November 26th, 2012
Read on to the review for a full description, but this is hands-down the best album of the year.
Review, tracklist, sample song, and link are after the jump.
Nowena | 9.10
Amenra's fourth full-length, the creatively- and unexpectedly-titled Mass V, kicks off in a way that immediately and vividly recalls the founders of the label to which they were signed in the summer of last year. It's not like "Dearborn and Buried," the first of the album's four tracks, is actively ripping off and slandering Neurosis with its vaguely tribal percussion, harrowing shouts, and slow, feedback-laden riffing: rather, its sleeve-worn influence greatly honors the band that effectively founded the genre in which Amenra have been working since their inception in 2003. The opener might be Mass V's greatest and most obvious perpetrator of the hero-worship that Amenra seem to enjoy lauding on the grandfathers of their sound, but traces of it are apparent throughout the entire album and throughout the band's career. From their signing to Neurot to their recent European touring stint with Neurosis to Scott Kelly's guest vocal appearance on closer "Nowena | 9.10" to even the very foundation of their bleak, atmospheric sludge sound, everything Amenra does and every new musical statement they make displays not a desire to dishonor their forefathers with pale sonic imitation - an act that has become all-too-common in the genre today - but a massive respect to the boys from California and a thirst to honor their name by taking their sound, expanding upon it, and making it their own.
The only remotely amusing thing about this anything-but-amusing record may be that the aforementioned opener, with its relatively blatant Neurosis-isms, is actually the weakest of Mass V's four immensely bleak voyages. That is certainly not to say that it's a weak song in and of itself, for it still displays Amenra doing perfectly what has made them such a revered name in the world of atmospheric sludge metal ever since the release of their sophomore effort, Mass III. Specifically, the creepily mellow crooning of frontman Colin H. Van Eeckhout after the dying-down of the song's heaviest section injects into the song the first hint of a darkness that will define the rest of the album. But it is only on the next track that Amenra really begin to break away from the characteristics of their progenitors and to carve out a style that is more their own; subsequently, "Boden" becomes the first truly brilliant moment of Mass V. It still pays ample tribute to Neurosis, largely in the opening riff's similarity to the main riff of the title track of 1999's Times of Grace, but what is different here is that "Boden" fully exposes the absolutely banal, crushing darkness that was previously hinted at in "Dearborn and Buried." The nine-minute track devotes the first two minutes of its runtime to a percussion-free, bell-assisted ambient build, before breaking into the previously-mentioned riff, which is accompanied by Eeckhout's signature dying-animal shrieks. However, the first of the album's hell-breaking-loose moments ends just as quickly as it began descending into a period of bells, soft guitars, and immensely foreboding half-spoken, half-whispered vocals. The listener knows that the world that Amenra have built here is bound to come toppling down at any moment, but yet, it is still a shock when the song finally explodes into one of the darkest, most apocalyptic post-metal climaxes in years. The world has collapsed, and all that remains is death, darkness, and utter nothingness. When the final note of "Boden" fades out, you finally realize what Amenra have crafted with this album, and it is something that is absolutely beautiful and grandiose in its all-consuming despair.
"A Mon Ame," the longest track on the album, gives the listener a respite from the nihilistic and hateful desolation of "Boden," although this is still far from a lighthearted affair. This track actually gives a nod to Neurosis' star pupils, Isis, in its slow, repetitive, and layered post-metal builds that dominate a large part of its duration. Here, the ritualistic nature of "Dearborn and Buried" and the pure hopelessness of the climaxes of "Boden" are replaced with vast sonic landscapes that somehow recall a vast and bleak, yet hugely majestic landscape formed after being devastated by the cataclysmic volcanic eruption of "Boden." Along with the desolation and grandeur, however, Amenra also convey a sense of beautiful loneliness with this track: it is not only about the landscape, but about a solitary figure - a survivor - traversing it after every single thing he knew and loved had been destroyed. However, the figure's troubles are far from over, for if "Dearborn and Buried" is a song of foreboding, "Boden" a song of devastation, and "A Mon Ame" a song of grandeur, desolation, and loneliness, closer "Nowena | 9.10" is a hymn of ultimate annihilation; the final straw that utterly destroys everything that is somehow still standing in the picture painted by Mass V. Beginning with a surprisingly catchy, cleanly-sung interlude that strongly recalls 2009's Afterlife EP, it soon descends into an all-encompassing darkness not unlike that of "Boden." Here, Amenra give their final tribute to their forefathers: or rather, their forefathers give tribute to them, in the form of a powerful guest vocal contribution by Neurosis co-frontman Scott Kelly whose intensity and ferocity recalls his mid-90s output more than it does the more mellow approach taken on this year's Honor Found in Decay. This song is also unique in the album in that it largely eschews builds for a constant and unyielding assault, culminating in a simplistic yet utterly devastating, sustained riff that finally marks the total annihilation of the world created by Amenra on Mass V.
It is also worth noting that another advantage of signing to such a respected label as Neurot Recordings seems to have been that Mass V is also far and away the best-produced work of Amenra's career. All traces of tinniness are gone, replaces with a dense, bass-heavy wall of sludge that finally does justice to the sound that Amenra have been painstakingly crafting over the past nine years. This stellar production job is merely the icing on the cake, though: the ultimate piece of brilliance on an album that took expectations and completely laid waste to them, becoming Amenra's best work to date and the best post-metal album in years. Mass V is dark. It is desolate. It is bleak, harrowing, devastating, crushing, hateful, grandiose, majestic, gargantuan, vehement, destructive, ritualistic, hopeless, and utterly apocalyptic, but really, no matter how many words I pull out of my ass to describe it, I still will fail to do it justice. Just rest assured that, when you listen to this (when - not if), the only complaint you will have will be that the album's forty minutes breeze by far too quickly. Mass V is an utterly brilliant album that not only stands as Amenra's finest work, but that undoubtedly would (and probably does) make Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till, and Co. proud to have these fine young Belgians on their roster.
Are you awake?
What did you see?
Can you feel me now?
Like a sudden hissing, right behind your ear...
Can you feel me now?
I am reason... I am fear.
1. Dearborn and Buried (9:15)
2. Boden (9:04)
3. A Mon Âme (13:01)
4. Nowena | 9.10 (9:20)
Duration - 40:40