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Kathaarsys is a black metal band never lacking in ambition. Their debut 'Portrait Of Wind And Sorrow' impressed me by their grand take on the melodic soft-heavy approach that fueled Opeth's early work, and their second album 'Verses In Vain' is no pushover either. As a double album clocking in at over eighty minutes with only five songs to split up the time, Kathaarsys are certainly not afraid to be 'epic'. They have created another beautiful adventure with 'Verses In Vain', although there are aspects about this album that may have benefited from the band reining things in a bit.
There are five compositions on this album, ranging from a meager thirteen minutes, to a somewhat longer twenty. They are each musical journeys in themselves, and each of the five could then be broken down into many sub-sections. For all intents and purposes though, the album runs as one long piece of music, with the songs being moreso for the sake of album navigation. With such an lengthy scope to the band's music, it should not come as a surprise that Kathaarsys like to take their time when developing ideas. Much of the music is based around atmospheric chord progressions and a thick black metal style of playing. In the style of a band like Wolves In The Throne Room, Kathaarsys builds these progressions slowly and deliberately, and while the musicianship is not necessarily complex, it creates a wave of sound that sucks the listener in. There are other forces at work here besides black metal, including death-doom (heard in the opening metal passage of 'Doomed In The Black Abyss'), acoustic folk a la Opeth, and even jazz, a style that the band would go full force with on their fourth album, 'Intuition'.
The vocals that accompany the instrumentation (performed here by J.L Montans) are also quite diverse, ranging from deep death grunts, to the higher rasps of black metal, to dramatic clean vocals and even some spoken word. Montans' strength is most definitely in the black metal vocals, and the death growls have really improved this time around. As for the cleans, things are a little inconsistent. On one hand, Montans does prove himself to be a good singer with a strong. dramatic voice. Perhaps its the somewhat weak melodies that the clean vocals are assigned, but on the whole, I found myself fairly unmoved by the cleans here. There is a part in '...And All My Existence In Vain' that particularly comes to mind, where I am not sure if it was either a poorly constructed melody, or Montans falling completely flat on a note, but Kathaarsys does not know how to use clean vocals too well. The spoken word dialogue is fairly weak as well, being practically inaudible, and almost a nuisance to listen through.
The ideas and composition of 'Verses In Vain' is very good, with many of these musical concepts reaching the level of excellence. Undoubtedly the biggest concern I have with the music here however is the way it is all organized. Sure, there are plenty of great moments on the album, but I could easily draw a comparison to a film that has lots of beautiful scenes, but makes little sense in the end. None of these epics stand out from the others, and even many of these ideas- while very good on their own- do not compliment an overall sense of cohesion and composition. The soft-heavy dynamic is here, but there is little buildup of dramatic tension, or even much in the way of climaxes. 'Verses In Vain' is an album that is full of promise and quality ideas, but the way its put together leaves it feeling more underwhelming than it should be.
After the majestic progressive black glory of "Portrait of Wind and Sorrow" you could say I was expecting a lot from this album. Though, I am a nut over intensely long songs with complex structures (i.e. the shortest song on this album hits over 13 minutes)., this band should've stuck with a 9-12 minute song length.
This album is by no means boring, in fact it's one of my personal favorite extreme progressive albums, it's just...lacking what the debut put out so well. I'm going to cut this down, piece by piece.
Guitar/Bass-Work - I was definitely impressed by the extremely proficient guitar work, and was extremely pleased with M. Barcia's bigger, more obvious role in her bass playing. Though, the production proves to be a great asset, it is also one of the biggest downfalls of the album, as well [see below - Production].
Drumming/Percussion - I am much more pleased with drumming on this album than on the debut, for one thing there is considerably less blasting. Which, as you know from my previous review, plagued the debut. The drumming focuses more on standard death/black beats.
Vocalization - The same as the debut, J.L. Môntans remains to be an excellent, varied vocalist. Firstly, his black metal screeches are rather similar to Ihsahn's, which isn't a badthing at all. His grunts have gotten better, they sound a bit above average, compared to the debut, as well as his clean vocals.
Production - This is a biggie. The production is much cleaner, smoother, and crisper. It brings out the dexterious bass work and the excellent guitar work well...but it ruins the album's sound. The production is way too clear for me to listen to it straight through. The atmosphere is lacking because of this, there is no sense of foreboding and sorrow that the debut had.
All in all, this album is great musically (though not as excellent as the debut) but lacks in atmosphere. Mostly due to the overkill in production.