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'The Absence of Light' marks the return of Manetheren, a very short time after their debut was released. I wasn't expecting much of a change from the first full-length, considering the proximity that these two full-lengths were released in. I was right not to expect much of a change because this second record, 'The Absence of Light' signifies very little change from the debut. It's the same in sound quality, contains the same vocals and is in, pretty much every way possible, similar to the debut.
I supposed this very element disappointed me because the debut needed to be improved upon in order for this band to become a success. No matter what, a band can always improve upon what they are doing and if the audience doesn't believe so, a band generally alters their sound a bit in order to shake things up. As I said, the vocals are the same as they were before. Raping screams that depict any raw emotion felt by man. This does have the ability to connect to the audience, but the vocals add little to the proceedings much of the time. For the most part they are simply subpar. Though I suppose if Manetheren were an entirely instrumental band, they wouldn't survive. There isn't enough substance behind the music to make it survive alone without vocals. So in a sense, the vocals do add a tremendous amount to the record. They give a sense of passion and belief in what Manetheren are doing.
The bass is, for the majority of the time, inaudible. You can vaguely make it out in the background. An almost silent humming sound. It doesn't make much of an impact, though bass rarely ever does on black metal records. The production is again the same. A hazy mist building up over the music, preventing the audience from fully hearing what Manetheren are trying to create. The sound quality, although not the worst i've heard, detracts from the best part of the record, the guitars. The distortion of the guitars and the lacklustre sound quality clash with harmful effects. The guitars often sound like a chainsaw that's being turned on.
The programming is poor again. The lack of a drummer hinders any creativity the band want to throw into their music on the percussion side of things. Repetition is key to the percussion. It doesn't sound particularly great, but it gives the music a steady sound to work on. It's constantly pounding away without a care in the world. The keys and guitar mix is what makes Manetheren stand out. They blend well together to give a very atmospheric feel. But other than that, it's more of the same from Manetheren.
While a lot of depressive black metal goes for a cold and/or evil atmosphere, Manetheren does not; consequently, while a lot of depressive black metal fails at being depressive, Manetheren does not. To quite the contrary, "The Absence of Light" is singularly the bleakest, most depressing, and all around ruin-your-mood album that I have had the pleasure of being sucked into.
As previously mentioned, this is not a 'cold' or 'evil' sounding album, it isn’t anything, really, and that is the key to its success. Instead of arrogantly slopping “depressing sounding” riffs together like far too many, Manetheren’s songs consist of only a few different riffs that meld back-and-forth then evolve into a new riff. Because riffs evolve more so than they change, the album has a very claustrophobic air; not claustrophobic in a desperate fashion, where the listener tries to escape the crumbling of their world, but claustrophobic in the sense that the world has already been torn down and you have admitted defeat and are content to lie down and die among the ruins.
As well put together as the riffs are, the effect of album would be far less if not for the phrasing. These songs are long beyond the point of “that was a long song…”, and into the realm of fearing the end of the song. While listening to any given song, I become so comfortable in the sadness it bears that I begin to be afraid of the aspect that it has to end, because at the end I have to pick myself up and rebuild. Fighting against what this album has crushed is painful for me.
These facets are aided greatly by the production. The constant white noise of the guitars becomes less and less noticeable as you continue through the record, but even as such, it is the backbone of the awkward anticipation that is stirred within me.
The drumming is a pretty standard 4/4. The vocals are also pretty standard, being of the ‘grim’ variety; this is not to detract from them but to praise them. Anything more emotive would have ruined the void that the mix of sounds creates. Interestingly, the most unique aspect that continues to unveil itself is the bass guitar. Initially, I passed it off as simply following the guitar which, for the most part, it does, but in an atypical fashion. The more attention that I pay to the bass lines, the more I realize that they seem to mock the negativity that everything else creates. While everything else changes in unison, the bass holds on to the previous riff just long enough to kick you while you’re down.
The semblance of Manetheren to Abyssic Hate is undeniable; however, while Abyssic Hate bores me, Manetheren intrigues me.
The image that “The Absence of Light” conjures is one of a man who, jaded with the numbness of everyday life, decided to tear himself apart (physically) to once again find his humanity. What he digs out of himself is so withered and useless, that he becomes catatonic. “The Absence of Light” is the disintegration of his mind that follows.