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I've wanted to review a Cascadian BM album for a while now, mainly so I could have a little bit of a musing on the style, but it turned out picking a band to actually represent it was always a bit of a challenge. I could do it with one of Ash Borer's good albums and approach it from the viewpoint of a silver lining, or I could come at it from beneath with something by Krallice, to really launch into the sub-subgenre with a scathing assault, but alas, despite formerly not playing the style from what I've heard, Agrypnie have shone as the obvious choice; perfectly mirroring the subset's mediocre, mundane standards with what may plausibly be the most mundane and mediocre album ever recorded.
Musically, Aetas Cineris proves once and for all that Agrypnie own a couple of guitars, a drumset, a keyboard and at least one microphone, and have the time management skills required to all show up at a recording studio at a previously agreed upon time, but it doesn't really a demonstrate a whole lot else. They're capable musicians, they don't drop their instruments, I'm reasonably certain none of them are amputees, and in general they have a solid performance, along with this it isn't like they write obnoxiously bad music or anything either. None of the riffs swirl out of time, the vocals aren't fed through autotune, the drummer doesn't get lost trying to keep time, nor do they get lost in endless and inconsequential quasi-psychedelic jams or anything, they've got perfectly adequate riff set, and a no frills writing pattern which is lengthy and all, but never particularly dragged out or noticeably padded. They are evidently a competent band. A shockingly consistently competent band in fact. Not a single second of this release drags itself above or below baseline competence, not one riff, not one melody, not one atmospheric passage, nothing does anything more, or even attempts to do anything more than exist. This is likely why it never feels padded, all the music has the same absolute lowest entry point aim, so there are no sections that seem to be delaying better parts. This album is indeed 77 minutes of musical sound recorded for listening activity, I'll give it that.
The whole Cascadian scene as a whole is pretty much guilty of this, it's kind of their calling card, it is actually quite impressive how explosively average the band have managed to be when functioning within a style that seemingly strives for mediocrity. The whole movement seems to be the result of a bunch of bands wanting to play post-rock but also wanting to appear edgy enough to play black metal, but actually have no interest in the genre and have no grasp on what actually makes a good black metal song, this has lead to all bar about 15 riffs in the black metal side of Cascadian history being more interesting than simple tremolo chord progressions. Where most of the acts make or break it though is the post rock and folky stuff that makes up the rest of the style's usual identity, some bands are really good at the post rock stuff which makes those tedious black metal sections more or less an acceptable tonal shift and variation, even if stand alone it isn't great. Of course for the ones who suck at post rock, it makes every single element of the band an awful waste of time, but that seems to be the gamble these bands take when they play between 40% and 70% of their music in a genre they have no talent for. What makes Angrypie so magnificently drab is that they don't seem to want to be a super mellow post rock or folk band either.
Yep, these guys aren't hoping to hide an innate desire to make super pretty melodic blackgaze in the style of Alcest behind a bunch of half assed black metal parts like their contemporaries, the post rock here is equally as half assed. They genuinely don't seem to be passionate about any element of their sound. They never try to get as downright harmonic and fiddly as the other bands trying to get a folkish or beautiful image, they just phone in the same ideas of the metal parts, except with a friendlier tone and a bit more space between notes. If you're getting black metal, you're getting uninspired chord progressions, if you're getting post rock, you're getting half assed chord progressions, if they try to get a bit sludgy, they just kinda chug out some middle of the road riff, if they're trying to deliver a big melodic hook, you'll get a higher pitched chord progression, if they're going all acoustic and natural, you bet your entire ass you're getting some more chord progressions pulled from half of theirs.
The most impressive thing about all this minor ass involvement is that none of this actually sounds bad, not at all, eight twangs of a note followed by eight twangs of the next note up or down is a safe and perfectly acceptable manner of creating a sound that will appeal to any innate musical sense on some level, but it sure as fuck doesn't impress or move me to thoughts beyond "this moment sure is preferable to listening to a dial up modem", and looking that the material on offer, it doesn't seem that the music is even meant to.
As a result the whole album feels like Dissection's most uninteresting riffs played without the energy at a midpaced trundle, occasionally transcribed into mellowed tunings and instruments to break up the otherwise dominant wiffle black. I'm sure at some point, a drum was hit in the manner of a blast beat, but even given the sparsity of use the exciting effect of the increased snare speed is never felt because all the stringed instruments do for the musical transition is play their boring old "riff" a couple of steps lower. The strings are twanged and the keys are pressed, nothing beyond the most baseline of goals is achieved. The sheer devotion to never climbing above mediocrity is astounding.
Along with the standard repertoire of tedium, it's surprising how often the band sets itself up for something greater than an all-encompassing "eh", but seems to deliberately ignore its own set ups. Take the end of "Dezember", they go all acoustic for about three minutes and then make the decision to close the song with a frantic minute of screams and blast beats and general intensity. It's a tried and true technique which has been a successful ploy for many great bands, it's just when Agrypnie do it, it just, sits there looking bored. The riff is timid, the melodic harmonies are oversimplified, quaint and unmoving with no expressiveness to provide an emotional hook, it's just a louder piece of sound with absolutely no weight behind it. It is a heavy part that exists, it isn't obnoxious, the listener will likely react to it in a suitable pleasant indifference, but it isn't memorable in any way either. Or look at the atmospheric number, "Kosmos", which delivers 6 minutes of spacy sounds before finally striving to move us into transcendental passion with... a simple buzzing chord progression that repeats yet never escalates? That's it? These guys really haven't even tried to be anything above pure distilled mediocrity. This happens to every time they accidentally stumble into a largely boring passage that could feasibly be used as a lead up to a not largely boring passage.
Well, I jest a little on the every time part, the ending of “Gnosis” clearly attempts to do something, not much for a band with even the slightest sense of scale and theatrics, but it sets records here for being anything at all. It's the only time they actually try to make the "epic closing melody" to a song be more than just a four note post rock lick over a tremolo progression, this time at least showing signs of building to something akin to an acrobatic lead guitar harmony or even solo, admittedly it doesn't actually get there, disappointingly really only manifesting itself as the first few notes of a ripping solo getting into place before getting stuck on playing a loop of a few mundane notes, but for a fleeting, gloriously non-detached moment it actually gives the impression that something cool could have happened, not another moment on the album gets this far down the path of satisfaction.
In short, for 77 minutes this exists, then it stops. That's pretty much the most exciting thing I can say about it, it is truly crushingly average at every possible step. If you've got really, really low standards and could do with hearing some sound for the next hour and a bit, or are willing to see if you can stare into the eyes of true mediocrity and live to tell the tale, check it out by all means, for anyone else this album should be ignored with the same level of ruthless apathy they put into creating it.