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Wow! 79 minutes – you don’t see that too often, especially in black metal. Some bands make two and a half albums with this much material – other bands stretch out some parts of their music unnecessarily to get it over the magical mark of 80 minutes and release a double-CD – which could be more lucrative for the artist. Without being exhaustively long or repetitive, "Wahnsee" tells a story which is 79 minutes long. The amount the band needed, the amount it took them to make a great album.
Stemming from a musical niche that got a little crowded over the last few years – which is melodic, atmospheric black metal, with some folk elements (not the flutey – tweedling stuff, rather the acoustic guitar side of this label) they looked for new horizons where few bands reached without overstretching their range of influences (of course, whoever liked their demo will still find the defining key ingredients, which made that one also a really good CD). In their new release the band uses lots of musical “colors”, and “painting methods” but the blend is not shrill or unfitting, but rather rich, mostly dark, atmospheric with lots of depth.
At first, let’s have a look at the sound, mix and playing style. Where the demo was certainly appropriately robed, the album sounds really great. The amplified guitars are really thick and full now. They have the right amount of buzz for the music they play, without losing any clarity (no garage-feel here my friend... I am not categorically against such a sound, but it would not do justice to this composition). The 2 guitars blend pretty well with a similar sound-body, but both sure have distinctive characters. Very mentionable is certainly the raise of the skill-level for some passages (some motives in e.g. “Der Wahnsee” are incredible – there is no speed metal solo-wanking, which would also not fit in there, but you will find a different sort of jagged/sawing guitar madness – leap into it!). The acoustic guitars give the album a very special lightheartedness or slight melancholy, which breaks the dark, creeping or angry passages (as in the demo). The bass is forceful and gives some depth to the melodies. It is some kind of shadow with a life of its own – while it accompanies the music in many parts, some autonomous passages or dire poundings grab the attention from the inventive guitar lines. The bass is audible everywhere, but never overshoots. The drumming is very varied and pummels or at times just strokes or tickles you in really fancy, elaborate ways through the album. Old-school blasts and double bass passages are not overrepresented – multifaceted playful ideas, at times even jazzy parts find their way into the music, which gives an astonishing new dimension to a record within certain black-metal boundaries. The sound of the drums is organic and intense and just at the right level. Another definite novelty since the demo is the new singer. He does a really good job in applying many different techniques from whispering over croaking, moaning and screaming in different heights to hoarse or also “normal” singing passages.
Taken together: With a rather classical lineup (2x guitars, 1x bass, 1x drums, 1x vocals) this band manages – by exploring many different styles and influences and in their approach towards black-metal-rooted metallic art – to sound really fresh and tasty. Of course that is not just due to the applied playing techniques and the sound but also the (in an absolute positive way) unconventional, inventive songwriting. The whole production is not too loud, mangy or in your face – it is clear and emotional – fitting for the album that it is meant to be: a grim peregrination, a dismal tale.
With German as my mother tongue, I can understand the really well-written lyrics, which get even a little more accessible after hearing some information via the sparse interview I found with the band.
The poetically enriched story of a wroth, acute liberation and not being able to outrun conscience and madness, drifting deeper and deeper into the maelstrom (central to the artwork and also the inescapable center around which the story is circling) is captivating and easy enough to relate to.
The artwork is also exceptionally well-made. An idyllic old village is at the brink of chaos and destruction, right adjacent to the eye-shaped lake (the "lake of delusion") with its whirling and sucking center. In the misty distance you also see two further burning villages under the dark, ominous sky. The painting skillfully merges occult symmetry and symbolism with many references to the lyrics. Close-ups of the artwork can be found in the booklet, where you can enjoy the art in great detail. The tasteful colors make this one definitely an eye-catcher!
Like a metaphorical figure of the album-titled song “Der Wahnsee” – which is the Leviathan, this album is a twisting and coiling, engulfing and devouring monster. It would be hard for me to pick a favorite song, as they are mostly so different from each other – every single one adding a piece to the whole tragic picture. For reasons of accessibility and presentation I would probably pick “Gratwanderung” ("tightrope walk") and “Der Wahnsee” ("lake of delusion") for a start. This nice work of art is limited to 500 pieces and certainly worth picking up. In my eyes this is an essential rarity in the ocean of similarity and mediocrity – especially given the fact that this band is more or less at the start of their (hopefully long) career. The fact, that this album was self-composed, recorded, mixed, mastered and produced should earn them some respect. The CD certainly hit my own taste very well, but I can imagine that now everyone will like or understand this CD, especially the range of styles could be beyond some listener’s tolerance. Therefore I took some points away from the rating.
This could be interesting for friends of old Ulver, Agalloch, Enslaved, Nocte Obducta, Negura Bunget, Bathory, Dornenreich, Eïs, new Vreid or Wolves in the throne room. Check it out!