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Incoherent Irritation - 30%

Apteronotus, April 5th, 2013

Fleurety’s “Department of Apocalyptic Affairs” is unusual. Despite how unbelievably incoherent it is, nearly every turn in the music manages to be irritating. For the sake of context, this Norwegian duo is perhaps best known for either their first full length and highly regarded black metal album “Min Tid Skal Komme” or from the fact that Alexander Nordgaren stopped singing after damaging his voice due to impossibly high pitched whistle-register vocals on the band’s earlier releases. Here, Fleurety diverged from their past and took a hard left into experimental territory while simultaneously plummeting in quality. Experimentation can be refreshing, no one likes stale music that merely reiterates what has been done in the past. “Department of Apocalyptic Affairs,” however, shows how novelty alone is painfully insufficient to create an album. Indeed, novelty is the only real driving force here, and little attention was given to more important considerations like vision, structure, or melody. Curve after random curve yields new musical ideas, directions, and disappointments. This failure is haphazard and thoughtless eclecticism.

Opening up with “Exterminators” is helpful for understanding the problems. Within the first two minutes you can get a strong sense of most of the album’s major deficiencies. We are introduced with a silly circus melody joined with wacky flanger guitar and a walking bass that ambles its way into a third unrelated direction. This third direction later turns out to be a genre change. Jazzy, intimate, and silly female scatting vocals abruptly make the bass more comprehensible, but without remedying the impression that we have started a new song. Naturally, some dissonant guitar chords then chime in, only to be interrupted by a nonsense piano diddle. This is in turn followed by a boring guitar riff that comes across as something between an echo and interminable repetition. The entire album often keeps going on like these first two minutes do, failing to sustain any kind of atmosphere or even establish a mood other than disorganization and silliness. Even the component parts that make up the songs are grating because of how they fail to mesh together. Sure, it isn’t completely awful. The bass lines are often interesting and more vivacious than what is normally expected in metal. Still, everything feels entirely out of place and even individual components that may have some merit become grating when carelessly thrown together.

The primary style and source of novelty is the amalgamation of loungey elevator jazz and black metal somewhat in the vein of experimental releases from the same era such as Mayhem’s “Grand Declaration of War” and Dødheimsgard’s “666 International.” When listening to it though, one would think there were also half a dozen other genres involved at all times because of how indelicately these two major themes are blended. Abrupt and pointless changes in music sections sound like the band made two separate albums in different genres, cut them into chunks, and then shuffled together like a deck of cards. The Mayhem comparison provides a nice contrast even for those unfamiliar with “Grand Declaration of War.” “Shotgun Blast” features Maniac on vocals and presenting the lyrics in a harangue-the-listener style as he also used on that album, but as the rest of the music meanders around with dance pad sounds it just feels like random nonsense. Next consider how Dødheimsgard’s more industrial approach also used similar dance percussion elements with driving bass lines to create an interesting mood, which we never hear with this despite the similar parts. Fleurety fails to match their contemporaries in quality because their quest for a more experimental and eclectic approach sacrificed too much of their central metal roots. This does not mean that the album is flawed because it sounds too much like dance music or jazz. Instead, the problem rests with how it tries to be a metal album without the metal, and this leaves the band with no organizing principle or direction. A particularly glaring example of this lack of direction is how with only 8 tracks the duo felt it necessary to include two very similar versions of the song “Face In A Fever” with each member having their own edition. Fleurety’s unwillingness to even settle on one version of the song means you end up listening to it twice, and this is just another instance how the failure to synthesize ideas leads to ruin.

When an album simply fails to come together, it is unfortunate and can result in a failure. This goes much further, its exhausting and obnoxious. More prominent than the obnoxious elements I mentioned earlier are the vacuous vocal decisions that rapidly drop the quality from incoherent to awful. After singling out Maniac’s beatnik poetry reading on “Shotgun Blast” it is hard to pick from the numerous examples what might be next most irritating item on the list, but the cartoon super-villain vocals at the end of “Facets 2.0” are nearly as awful. Again, the surprising part of this is how with so many vocals styles why none of them manage to be anything but aggravating. Even the relatively inoffensive female vocals on “Facets 2.0” sound strained, thin, and wholly inferior to the band’s “Last-Minute Lies” EP version of the same song. The album’s incoherence also makes it naturally exhausting but this is compounded by bad pacing decisions such as having the sixth and seventh tracks so mild and one dimensional (yet still incoherent) that they create the sensation that the album is coming to a close. Not so. Instead, after about 14 minutes of creating that feeling, the album actually ends with a song whose gauche saxophone intrusions had worn out their welcome when the song was the second track.

“Department of Apocalyptic Affairs” does some new and unusual things for a metal album but fails to ever be interesting or organize these various ideas together. Combine this with how irritating so much of the album is and you get something that is far worse than a run-of-the-mill failure.

Originally written for: http://theoakconclave.blogspot.com

What Went Wrong? - 60%

Perplexed_Sjel, November 20th, 2009

I would never have expected such a drastic change if I had not read about it prior to hearing ‘Department of Apocalyptic Affairs’, the enigmatic sophomore from Norwegian legends Fleurety. I’m glad that I had done my research before hearing this unusual follow-up to one of black metal’s most divine moments of the 1990’s in ‘Min Tid Skal Komme’, a record that pioneered the post-black sound that has become so accessible to modern listeners in today’s world. Fleurety’s debut had passed me by and existed unbeknownst to me for several years. I only discovered it somewhat recently and when I decided to give it a listen, knowing that there was a chance that Fleurety would turn out to be a complete disaster on their more experimental sophomore, I was blown away. To say it was ahead of its time would be an understatement. It still serves a purpose today in exposing fans to new aspects of a genre that some would describe as being stagnant. ‘Min Tid Skal Komme’ is an overlooked masterpiece in Scandinavia’s long history with black metal music. That history is neglected in favour of a new found sound on this sophomore, which fails to deliver on the same levels, though some aspects are definitely worth hearing.

However, the same cannot be said of the sophomore in regards to focusing on the black metal roots, as this is a vastly different expression with more emphasis on being experimental, despite the fact that the debut was experimental in its own right. The description of “avant-gardé” doesn’t seem to do this record justice. It is eclectic and eccentric. I would never have expected such a drastic change in instrumentation and fortunes for a band who appeared to have a bright future ahead of them during the mid 1990’s when they first established themselves as a hit. Are Fleurety just another flash in the pan? It would seem so. To say this sophomore disappointed would be grossly misleading. It devastated me and shook me to my core. I could not have expected such a travesty if I had several centuries to prepare for the heart break. What I wanted from Fleurety was a continuation of the themes explored on the debut, but that is not what I was issued with. Instead, this varied portrayal of the avant-gardé genre is a severe let-down, despite several appealing aspects to its faltering game such as the wonderful female vocals of the sultry Heidi Gjermundsen and Karianne Horn, amongst others on songs like ‘Exterminators’ and ‘Facets 2.0’, both vastly different songs.

To me, despite being used to eclectic bands with extravagant music, a lot of the material is unapproachable due to the way in which it is layered. For example, the guitars are filtered out on songs like ‘Facet 2.0’ and make way for the drums and jazzier aspects of the soundscapes, which includes the use electronic input and a saxophone, which does work well with the jazzy bass section. The male vocals on songs like this are largely inaccessible, too. They undo the calming influence of the jazz based material and inflict a laughable source of aggression onto the listener who is by-and-large confused by the theatrical music. There is an element within songs like ‘Facet 2.0’ which reminds me of circus music, which makes it hard to take the direction of the record seriously. Considering this isn’t a plot used throughout the record, the direction is another problematic issue we face when standing up to this unique piece. It leans towards metal, then jazz and even on to a more industrial sound through the use of a central bass sound and programming. I find it difficult to understand what exactly the musicians were aiming for and with the use of so many guest musicians, these problems do not ease with time.

The direction flitters between metal and non-metal and although I don’t have a problem with non-metal material, I would like a sense of conviction in the style that Fleurety no longer have with this sound which has abandoned all sense of black metal for simply being weird. There is no doubting the talents of the musicians, or even the guest musicians, which features a number of Arcturus members, including Garm on vocals, which probably makes that circus feel more vibrant and come alive. Most areas have been adapted to suit this new sound, but I don’t feel the same sort of positivity rush through my body as it did with the adrenaline pumping debut. The production is clear, which works well with the layered features shown throughout the record. The beginning and end tend to be stronger than the middle of the record, which features several mediocre songs intent on dazzling with experimentation, rather than focusing on one general theme to explore in detail. I love the female vocalists used on this record, particularly on soothing songs like ‘Barb Wire Smile’ as they suit the jazzy underbelly - perhaps the biggest highlight of an otherwise unsatisfying follow-up. Unfortunate.