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“Hollow Psalms” is Ludicra’s most black metal release, but that isn’t really saying much. Undeniably, it’s an ambitious work, especially for a debut, as it basically establishes Ludicra’s melodic take on black metal, hardcore influences, and progressive rock. The band isn’t trying to be something they aren’t and, as a result, give an energetic and authentic performance. Catchy and accessible, “Hollow Psalms” is not exactly going to bring out the devil in you, but Ludicra most certainly do not deal in impotent music that exists only for character-less imitation.
“Tomorrow Held in Scorn” sets the pace up for what will be a furious release. Riding the tremolo of the guitars, the drums immediately blast into full speed, while Shanaman spits out her vocals venomously. The song gives off the sense that “Hollow Psalms” will be much more straightforward than Ludicra’s follow-ups. This track, in particular, is very short and, beyond its shift to a jostling tempo and its brief progressive section, fairly mono-dimensional. However, this is a bit deceptive. As much as the band confines all of their quirky tendencies to very memorable song structures, “Hollow Psalms” does go to strange places as much as it needs to in order to establish its personality.
The album is progressive in the sense that strange things always happen in each track, composition-wise or style-wise. For instance, “Hollow Promise” builds up tension by starting with acoustic chords and a flute, only to rush into tremolo and clean female vocals. Many other tracks feature clean guitars with echo effects and strange tempo changes, which often take the music to a sort of dreamy minimalism, as in “Damn the Night” and “The Final Lamentation.” All of these elements—combined with harmonious clean tremolo, the band’s general eccentricity, and catchy compositions—make for an accessible blend of many different genres that doesn’t fall prey to being watered-down.
Of course, there’s no denying that “Hollow Psalms” is metal. Shanaman’s screams are some of the best that any female metal vocalist has to offer. In “Userpent,” she lets off absolutely deranged, ear-piercing shrieks, but Ludicra maintain their edge even when they do something different. “The Final Lamentation” is a broody song with a character of its own, and the way Shaman’s shrieks follow chanting clean vocals allow for an immersive atmosphere that is both melancholy and hateful. There’s a certain power to the drummer’s performance, too, as he fluidly shifts between styles. The production is altogether clean, but not overly so, and allows the band to sound forceful whether they’re playing at a sprint or at a crawl.
With such a consistent discography, it’s arguable whether or not “Hollow Psalms” is Ludicra’s best release, but it certainly contains some of their most memorable songs. It’s not the sort of music that requires a burdened listen, but it is consistently enjoyable and covers enough soundscapes to warrant many revisits. To any fan of metal, the album will come off as inoffensive, yet there’s a refreshing quality to the music that comes with any skillful departure from generic conventions. “Hollow Psalms” is more than just a new band establishing itself; it’s a controlled exercise in innovation done very well.
Well now we have black metal coming from the frosty tundras of...Oakland California. Not bad seeing that the city is near San Francisco which has some superb black metal acts such as Leviathan, Crebain, and Xasthur. However, perhaps the most interesting thing to know about Ludicra is that they have the one and only Ross Sewage from the comedic death/grind band Impaled. Who would have ever thought this guy would be playing in a black metal band? Anyway, Ludicra have entered the scene with some black metal that seems influenced by Dissection, Naglfar, and other melodic acts, as well as some touches of hardcore tossed in the mix.
The album blasts open immediately with fast riffs, hardcore drumming, and brutal high black metal screams by Laurie Sue Shanaman (yes, this is a female fronted black metal band). The vocals sound very similar but even better than say Angela Gossow's from Arch Enemy. Shanaman's style is more screamy and aggressive than Gossow's and has so much power in her performance it's amazing to think that it is a woman doing the vocals. She outdoes many of the male black metal vocalists in the scene, many of which use distortion to make their voice sound more grim. The music is melodic, aggressive, and catchy. Ludicra have created their own style of black metal that doesn't sound quite like anything else. It has a hardcore force, yet a dark and brutal black metal sound. They top it off with nice clean production that doesn't have any flaws. Every instrument sounds great and nothing is overpowering.
The best song on the album in my opinion has to be "Hollow Promise" which begins with a hypnotic flute and then bursts with fast drums, riffs, and haunting backround clean female vocals. The song perfectly resembles the style which Ludicra play. Shanaman sounds like she is really passionate about what she is screaming on this track as she gives a very aggressive performance. Overall the song is melodic, catchy, and dark, keeping all of those ingredients at perfect equilibrium with one another.
This is not really raw, but definately some good aggressive black metal. Ludicra have shown that they are paving a road of their own and are not turning back. Plus they are perhaps the most recognized black metal act in Oakland (if not the only one). There is an incredible amount of potential for this band and this debut is better than what many bands come up with that have been around for an extremely long time. Pick this one up to experience the beginning of a great new band emerging into the scene.
Ludicra is without a doubt one of the more interesting bands to enter into the black metal scene in the past few years. While Ludicra’s influences defiantly shine through in their music (Darthrone, Dissection and Satyricon seemed to all have a big impact on this band) their sound is defiantly unique. For one, Ludicra seem to have more of a doom influence then your typical black metal band, often switching from icy thin riffs of black metal to dark, slow, crushing passages now and again. Ludirca also opt to play most of their softer parts on clean electric guitars as opposed to the typical acoustic guitars most black metal bands use. Sometimes elements of hardcore even seem to slip their way into the bands sound. Never the less, Ludicra are defiantly based in black metal with some of the most deliciously thin riffs one will hear anywhere. The production on this album while not bad, lacks personality as it never really adds anything to the album. The sound is not particularly raw or clean, leaving them in the all too average middle of nowhere. Considering the high level of musicianship within this band, I think they would be much better off going for a cleaner sound, which would fit their sound very well. Ludicra also is distinct in the world of black metal for the fact that two of the members including the vocalist, are female. Although lead vocalist Laurie Sue Shanaman’s voice is very harsh and aggressive it is also distinctly feminine. Alas the listener can quickly point out who Ludicra grew up listening to, however the band still shows quite a bit of originality on their outlook, attitude and execution of black metal.
The album starts out with a blast, with the fierce “Tomorrow Held in Scorn”. Trying to avoid a clichéd atmospheric intro the band bursts right into a spiteful song, keeping up the rage throughout, other then one softer moment in the middle. Defiantly a peculiar choice to put the most aggressive song first, and it defiantly starts the album off in a strange direction, but nevertheless the song is very good. “Hollow Promise” begins with an elegant flute intro (this would of made a much better intro track). It is as if the listener is standing on the edge of a cliff, staring down and then out of nowhere they crash down into the ravine as the band kicks in with a heavy riff and lush female wailing in the background. The song is wonderfully dynamic as it alters from one dramatic riff to the next. “The Final Lamentation” is a moody piece with plenty of clean guitar, which is balanced with heavy riffs layered with Laurie’s banshee like screams. “Userpent” opens with a frantic riff that leads to a piercing scream. The song’s main progression is an excellent, trembling riff, which is played in various tones, progressively getting thinner and thinner until the listener is left shivering from its harsh and bitter brilliance. The song also contains some great moments of Laurie’s growls being backed up with some nice clean female vocals. “Heaped Upon Impassive Floors” is sort of the typical Ludicra song with thin riffs, some female wailing, several interesting clean passages and some slower sludgy moments. “Damn the Night” is extremely dark and moody, living off the equilibrium of a fast riff of a more black metal nature and a slower riff in more of a doomy style. “Tragedia” is a haunting atmospheric instrumental lead by a flute and layered with a strange bellowing instrument and some guitar feedback. The listener feels as if they are being pulled into an Indian monastery, talk about a change of atmosphere! Ludicra saved the best track for last. The sixteen-minute epic “Fade to Grey” starts with several evil riffs in which Laurie’s voice reaches unfathomable levels of wickedness. Next the song feeds into a mid paced riff layered with subtle soloing. Then it falls into a bed of static with some dialogue in the background before breaking out into one final, dark, slow dirge. When listening to the song all the way through, it truly feels as if the bands black hatred is slowly giving way to a gray depression.
All in all Ludicra have created an exciting and dynamic debut album. Even if at times the album is flawed, as the band seems to get lost on where they are trying to go or exactly what they are trying to achieve, they still always manage to sound passionate, energetic and fairly original without separating to far from the realm of black metal. Ludirca will be an exciting band to watch in the future. All the pieces are there for this to be a very special band, its just a matter of them working on their art form; cleaning up the songwriting, progressions and production a bit. Until then, there is still plenty of enjoyment and inspiration to be gained from this solid debut.