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I'm often surprised at just how awful one man projects can be. One person should be able to craft more cohesive music than three or four people trying to simultaneously mesh ideas that at least one other person hates. Normally though, it seems that single-musician projects suffer from the exact opposite. Licrest is a one man project which suffers none of this and exceeds the expectations I have of projects arranged and composed by a single brain. Contrary to what some reviews out there want to indicate, it's actually fascinating at how multidimensional some of the tracks on the project's 2013 debut, Devoid of Meaning can be. Where Armon Nicholson triumphs here is in the amount of unique ideas on the release as well as the variety of tracks. Some tracks have a hardcore tint, others are pure early 90's Doom / Death, some sound like French takes on the genre like Fatum Elisum or Ataraxie and there are more experimental components as well such as the spacey atmosphere of final track "Desolation." The variety indicates, what I feel, is a conscious effort on Armon's part to not sound one sided, as if he is acting out the personalities of different members of his own imaginary band. He's a good actor, and this is a grand play.
Before launching into my accolades, there's little bad to really complain about here. Musically, it's a strong presentation. The production is excellent sounding, without being too clean and clinical. At times there are portions of vocals that could be better mixed, there are periods of riffing which sound great with leads or vocals but that wouldn't stand on their own and it's unfortunate that maybe a little extra care wasn't given to the packaging of the disc. A fuller booklet with a page or two instead of just a front and back image would have been nice to get into the visual side of the project. Understandably, money must have been an issue, as it always is, but after putting so much effort into the musical side of things, why not truly complete the release? The artwork and the layout doesn't have an effect on the music here, but it doesn't enhance it either. It offers little in the way of additional information as to the atmospheres and vibe that Armon is going for with Licrest.
From the opening minutes of Devoid of Meaning, it's pretty obvious what we are going to be offered on this plate. Armon does a good job of using multiple voices on opening track "The Sound of Pain" to imply that there is more to this release than basic growled monotony over slow dramatic melodies. Though the clean vocals here are a bit overbearing, the scratchier chorus vocals offer contrast and a memorable harmonized solo adds some grandeur to the track which, while nowhere near as infinitely exceptional as the lead to The Doomsday Cult's "Like Leafs They Fall," is a reminder and throwback to one of my favorite Doom tracks of all time. Even with this however, it's the rest of the tracks that really make the album. The rhythmic contrasts of "Heart of Darkness," with pummeling double bass beating underneath sweeping chords and cello flourishes - a common addition in the doom / death repertoire recently, it seems - is an aggressive take on the format. The almost purely funeral doom "A Light In Bloom" breaks up the album's pace nicely, a mature addition in a genre where pacing is almost always a major issue for me.
The album's title song, "Devoid of Meaning," a mostly faster beat-down track, as well deeper moments on the album like "Falling Forever" and what I would describe as a 'slutty' "Downfall of the World" are above average even with their strong moments but Armon with Licrest assembles some truly excellent marks with "Dead and Cold," closer "Desolation," and the album highlight "As The Night Goes On." Every riff and melody is memorable here; a weaving of subtle harmonies is present as well as brilliant overt lead work such as is found on Solstice's New Dark Age or the previously mentioned The Doomsday Cult's Samirithans of Misery or A Language for Sad Spirits demos (As an aside, everyone that is into doom NEEDS to own the A Language of Misery compilation. It's required listening). Instead of overusing a single brilliant idea, Armon has arranged a track which is something of perfection here, by single usages of intensely memorable moments without rendering itself into a mishmash of disregarded riffs. With "Dead and Cold," we have a similar example but slightly less captivating. When "Desolation" ends out the performance with a downright - and down-tempo - depressive snarl a'la Highgate in the empty frozen void of space where sound travels forever and nowhere all at once, it's obvious to me that Licrest deserve some attention. Armon will have a difficult time following this up, I think, but I have a feeling whatever he does follow this up with will be another strong addition to a genre which has a lot of average material.
Originally written for Contaminated Tones