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Depressive suicidal black metal has become a scene to be reckoned with. Bands have sprouted from all corners of the globe with sounds ranging from the progressive black’n’roll chops of Shining to the claustrophobic dirges of Xasthur. Exiled From Light fall into the latter category. In fact, I draw many connections between this band and Xasthur in terms of song structure and vocals. The difference, of course, is that whereas Scott Conner’s project lacks memorable musicianship, the New Zealand based project mastermind Mort is actually as artistically compelling as it is depressive.
Like I said, Mort takes a lot of pointers from Xasthur in the vocal department. His screams are throaty, tortured, and powerfully resonant. They mix well with the music, giving the instruments room to breathe. There’s really nothing else to say about his vocals. They don’t deviate much from the template of Scott Conner. If you like that style of vocals, you’ll like these a lot. What really makes this album stand out is the music in which these vocals find a home.
I’m usually iffy about drum machines in depressive black metal. The mechanical nature of that approach often conflicts with the floatier, reverb soaked guitars, and 90% of the beats end up being redundant and boring. There Is No Beauty Left Here officially cured me of that response. Mort escapes from the pitfalls of his scene, in that while others would choose to play drums badly (hi there, opening fill of Portal of Sorrow!) or copy and paste a meandering loop, Mort uses drum programming to his advantage. What results is a tight, varied, and driving percussive attack that actually inspires me as a drummer. The fills are well constructed and even technical. The beats feel relatively natural; especially considering a real person is not playing them. Each hit has weight behind it. You can actually headbang to a solo DSBM project! WHAT?? The rest of the instruments on this album have less punch, so the drums truly save the day with their power. They keep the vibe from getting stale by balancing the dirgey with the propulsive. Mort didn’t treat programming as an excuse to avoid playing real drums, and created something admirable. I wasn’t prepared to be impressed by the work Mort did in this area, but it’s probably my favorite part of the album.
The rest of the elements on There Is No Beauty Left Here don’t stand out for originality as much as they do for how calculated they are. Ambient keyboard pads lay the foundation of much of the music, while buzz saw guitars drive the modulative and melodic parts. The keyboard pads rarely become more than washy soundscapes. However, the sounds Mort uses are still distinctive, giving each song its own unique shade of despondency. Because they don’t deal with moving lines or anything overtly melodic, Mort makes that part of his sound that listeners only notice when it’s not there. This isn’t to say that the guitars are particularly flashy either, though. They’re pretty run-of-the-mill. There isn’t anything Mort does that hasn’t been done a lot of times in the DSBM genre. The familiar bassless production and reverb filled guitar tone will certainly leave listeners expecting curveballs disappointed. If Mort wasn’t so great at what he does, his songs would be completely forgettable. There’s something to be said about doing something so well that people forget that they’ve technically heard it before, and that’s what Mort does on There Is No Beauty Left Here. Whether it be Tremolo picking, finger picking, or fuzzed out chords, each style of playing is used to superb effect. There are no points during which I thought, “Wow, that was generic.” This is especially impressive because There Is No Beauty Left Here features 6 songs by Exiled From Light that go well over the 10-minute mark. Attention to dynamics is largely to thank for it. Mort knows when to blast people’s faces off and when to lull them into a false sense of security. This reflects in his playing and song writing. I certainly wouldn’t go into this album looking for something easy to listen to, but each of these long winded explorations of despair will horrify and completely engross even the most hardened veterans of the genre.
I was expecting the extra tracks to be more of the same. To my surprise, the 3 tracks by Funereal go in a noticeably different direction than those before them. I would describe them as death doom. There’s still black metal influence, but the low tuned guitars are crushing and chunky (bass is audible!), the drums are simpler, and the vocals are mostly growled instead of shrieked. The craftsmanship Mort displays on Exiled From Light is evident in Funereal, and he makes use of other aspects of his musicianship. Focusing on simple, hard hitting groove and cavernous riffage, Mort shows that he can create a doom metal mudslide as naturally as he can create a black metal blizzard. One thing that stuck out to me was his use of piano sounds instead of synth. There are many times where they shine, creating wonderfully mournful atmospheres.
There Is No Beauty Left Here is a well-crafted album of depressive suicidal black metal goodness with some death doom thrown in for good measure. I recommend it to people who think they’ve heard all DSBM has to offer once they’ve heard the likes of Xasthur. Go for a walk during the twilight hours, put this record on, and listen to the genre in all its sublimity.
“There is No Beauty Left Here…” is a compilation of tracks from New Zealand’s Exiled From Light, who released one full length before fading into obscurity. Exiled From Light was formed and solely performed by multi-instrumentalist Mort, who was also the sole member of a few other projects, all of which are on hold or disbanded (as of the time of this review). Mort released one full length album under the Exiled From Light moniker before shelving the project sometime after 2009, entitled “Descending Further Into Nothingness”, which received mixed reviews. “There is No Beauty Left Here…” is basically a collection of tracks not previously released on that debut full length.
This compilation is a rather exhausting listen, as each track is well over the ten minute mark, the shortest being the album’s opener, “We Writhe as Worms”, at 12:20. Every track follows a relatively standard song structure. Even though the tracks are long, they can be broken into a discernible pattern: gentle instrumentation including acoustic guitars and soft keyboard passages that slowly swell and build into relatively slow paced, almost doom inspired segments of black metal. Let’s put it this way, if you’ve ever listened to depressive black metal you should know what to expect: relatively melodic wandering songs which build into trem infused black metal which falls back into melodic wandering, complete with shrieking vocals and a relatively grainy production. While the vocals, typical shrieking type, aren’t much to write home about, the general song structure and weaving of elements is where Exiled From Light shine.
“We Write as Worms” starts the album of with an ethereal, dreamlike segment with minimalistic instrumentation that just swells and swells until cresting into slower paced trem infused black metal. The rest of the album ebbs and flows like the gentle lapping of some back country lake along the shoreline; black metal; melodic segue; black metal; melodic interlude; etc. The way that Mort weaves these elements together seamlessly is impressive, as it’s not jarring or disjointed in the least bit, but just comes across in waves. “Clarity Viewed Through Dying Eyes” shows this perfectly with the somber lead guitar line and melodic minor key patters slowly surge forward and eventually build into an atmospheric and cyclical trem line that would not sound out of place on Drudkh’s masterpiece “Autumn Aurora”. The guitar lines are simplistic, especially during the melodious sections, but are engaging enough at times to be interesting. Most of the album is backed by some type of atmospheric element, be it an airy keyboard line in the background or just the general fuzziness of the production, lending a somewhat dreamy feel. While some parts of the album are trance inducing, the entire album isn’t able to keep your mind locked off into that magical, faraway place.
The general enormity of this release and the gentle ebb and flow fail to keep me impressed for the entire run. There are some great ideas sprinkled throughout, but it just doesn’t have that special something to make it stand out more. I inherently find myself relegating this to background music. There are brief sojourns with catatonia, but they are all too often replaced by sections of mediocrity. Perhaps given another shot at life, Exiled From Light could conjure a darker dream with more lasting power. Regardless, diehard fans of depressive black metal should dig this: more polished than most in the genre but still lacking the secret sauce.
This release also features three songs from another one of Mort’s previous projects called Funereal. These tracks basically sound the same as the Exiled From Light songs only slightly heavier and with a grainier production. These songs are shorter and more to the point than the other tracks but aren’t really anything special.
Written for The Metal Observer: