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Listening to Ludicra’s “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” is like reading a compelling novella—you quickly get caught up in the story and then bang! It’s over before you knew what hit you. The album barely breaks the 40 minute mark, but there’s absolutely no filler. Those forty minutes are an amazing down, up and back down experience that expresses a sharp, succinct series of dramatic emotions.
The production is fairly stripped down. While “Fex Urbis…” is by no means qualifies as “raw” black metal, it is certainly black metal with no frills. All the instruments are clear and audible, but there isn’t a lot of gloss or saturation in the production, which means there’s a direct, visceral presence to the music. This helps highlight the killer vocals of Laurie Sue Shanaman. Shanaman does everything from high-pitched screams to bestial growls, all of which are packed with real energy and force. Guitarist, Christy Cather adds some monotone clean vocals which are a good change of pace and fit the slow, somber passages well.
This is Ludicra’s third album (plus an EP), and it’s obvious the band is comfortable playing together. The performance is tight and everyone does their part. While there isn’t any mind-boggling musicianship on the album, the songwriting is excellent. The songs have very little repetition, but are nonetheless coherent. Each song uses two or three basic progressions which are modified in a variety of ways through the course of the song, giving the songs fluidity and development without redundancy.
The album is brilliantly crafted into three stages, mimicking the experience of becoming consumed by emotion, bursting forth in rage and fading into an exhausted tranquility. “Dead City” starts the album with a moody doom riff, before slowly building towards quicker, more aggressive passages. Like waves of emotion, the song swings back and forth, gaining momentum, with the music becoming more and more hostile and energetic. The end of “Dead City” leads directly into the fast and biting “In Fever,” which is full of vicious and epic black metal riffs. The entire middle passage of the album continues on an aggressive tear, showing off sharp and catchy black metal riffs and Laurie Sue Shanaman’s intense screams and roars. Softer passages show up now and then, but they feel more like the band revving up for the next outburst, as opposed to an actual calming of the music.
The album hits its epoch with the chaotic opening three minutes of “Only a Moment”. A whirlwind of tremolo riffs swirl around layers of vicious screams and yells, all set to an extremely groovy rhythm—the type of music you can’t listen to while staying still. With nowhere to go but down, the remainder of the album shifts into a series of slow, moody passages of blackened doom accompanied by flat, eerie, singing and tired rasps. By the time the aptly named “Collapse” comes to an end, darkness and fury has transformed into a hollow indifference. The ending stretch of the album has an oddly calming effect.
In general, I highly recommend Ludicra. The band has cultivated an original blend of black metal with touches of doom, rock and punk. Their entire discography (with the exception of “Another Great Love Song”, which is a dud) is solid. However, “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” exhibits everything that makes this band so great in a fluid, compact, 40 minute experience.
(Originally written for http://listenwell-nocturnal.blogspot.com/)
When you think of black metal cover artwork do you think of an outline of a grasshopper superimposed on dull green background? No? Well, that’s alright because Ludicra aren’t really a black metal band, but they don’t suffer at all for it. In fact, they’re better off, as the band is more than capable of taking on metal with a unique style that combines elements of black metal and rock. “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” is one such release that mixes catchiness with derangement, covers both hatred and melancholy, and winds up as a cohesive work, despite its long track lengths. It isn’t the most aggressive album, but it doesn’t need to be in order to be successful at getting across a unique character.
With any female-fronted metal band, the vocals demand particular attention. Shanaman’s vocals (backed up by Cather’s, I assume) are such that they are not simply a gimmick meant to attract listeners with ears for novelty. At her best, she sounds as deranged as Pest on Gorgoroth’s “Pentagram.” At her worst, she sounds as though she is just shouting, but variation makes her performance more interesting, and this isn’t exactly music that calls for non-stop aggression. With her extended, snake-like pronunciation of words, there is a clear venomousness to Shanaman’s voice when she’s doing black metal shrieks. In addition, her clean vocals are more haunted than sing-song, and they give off a good sort of indecipherability. It’s precisely this versatility of style and appropriateness to the music that make Shanaman’s vocals better than those of many male singers—at least on “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis,” anyway.
The whole feeling of the album is very akin to recent experimentation among west coast American bands. By this, I’m referring to Northwestern groups like Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch who take influence from a variety of genres. Ludicra aren’t folk by any means, but it’s no surprise that the band’s drummer and bassist have been involved with such experimental music. “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” is very rockish, but its catchiness does not make it any less of a powerful album. There is no overbearing wall of sound to be found on this release, and its clean but simplistic production allows for a more intimate listening experience.
With “Dead City,” the album has a melancholic but angry beginning. Ludicra’s enigmatic lyrical content fit slow, plodding songs very well because this approach, when paired with haunted clean vocals, makes for an immersively pensive atmosphere. It’s all very dream-like, but the simplistic music keeps it from being surreal. Even the more metallic songs such as “In Fever” and “Veils” alternate between aggression and strange dissonance. It’s the sort of atmosphere that’s atypical to anything that takes black metal influences because it’s not mono-dimensional. The blastbeat sections of “Veils,” for instance, might be musically in line with black metal, but the music recalls an entirely different aesthetic.
To have only five tracks is a bit underwhelming, but “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” puts all it has into them. Four of them go past the six-minute mark, and all of them remain interesting enough to sustain their duration. Ludicra change up the formula by including dreamy acoustic passages and by making frequent tempo changes. The only problem I had composition-wise was with the piano in “Only a Moment.” It’s certainly not obtrusive, as it really only strikes a few notes to the beat, but there’s something about pianos in metal that seems unnecessary to me. At least Ludicra resist the urge to go into “pretty” territory by not turning Shanaman into a diva or watering down their metal too much.
All in all, “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” is quite the unique release from a unique band. I can fish through black metal band after black metal band with names that border on parody, but Ludicra are hard to forget. I can’t, however, recommend the band for anyone looking for Norwegian imitation. If you like what the west coast of America has been putting out lately and if you like metal with character, then “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis” is as good as any reinforcement of that interest. Just ignore the ugly cover art.