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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