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Listening to this album for the first time is truly a rewarding experience. This may not be the first time that a black metal band injects electronic element into the music. Many have tried but failed miserably. Not to mention that the very idea of blending the two together is a lot less appealing to the purist crowd. Although this is not my first ever exposure to Netra, I can say that I am still pretty much surprised upon listening to Ingrats which I consider to be a collection of wonderful works of art.
Black metal tends to get old. When legendary names are churning new albums every two years, the point of saturation has never been so clear. We have gotten used to listening to uncompromising brutality that black metal is known for. Fans who are brave enough to venture beyond the unspoken dogma that has shaped our understanding of what the genre is supposed to be may discover a few hidden gems. Gems that one-track minded fans dare not speak of, let alone acknowledge as being part of a larger black metal universe. This is certainly the case with Netra. The band's latest offering Ingrats is truly a wonder to behold. Before Netra came to being, black metal and trip hop are like oil and water. They don't mix. But the creative mind behind this elusive entity has managed to make it work, and it has been working very well so far.
The album opens up with Gimme a Break which reminds me of Van Morisson's Moondance albeit with darker twist appropriate to Netra's musical vocabulary. The black metal tracks are not entirely black in nature. Everything's Fine begins with a barrage of heavy blast beats. The way drums are played differ from one track to the next. Like I said earlier, there are blast beats but they are not used extensively. Nor are they being played extremely fast like in Azarath or Infernal War. The blast beats are not meant to rip your face off. Rather they help to conjure the right kind of feelings to make sure that listeners, casual or otherwise, stay focused on channeling the bleakest emotion possible.
Screaming and howling aside, the bass is somewhat audible. Imagine if Gorgoroth were to record Twilight of the Idols (In Conspiracy with Satan) with improved dynamic range while letting Akira Yamaoka handle all the piano melodies. Obviously, this pattern is repeated in the next few songs with varying degrees of alteration. The riff is often strummed and delayed to give genuine depressive feel. I would say tremolo is quite rarely used on this record but whenever the tremolo is played, the result is often breathtaking. It's the kind of tremolo picking that makes black metal great at the first place.
Did I mention screaming and howling? Each track that is sung with lyrics has different vocal style. Steven Le Moan (I'm pretty sure that's not even his real name) either sings in normal clean voice or depending on the mood, he may scream and howl like any good black metal vocalist in the depressive niche would do. To be honest though, his vocals aren't anything special but it is how he carries his voice that matters the most. He performs very well on the clean singing scale. Take for example Live with it where Le Moan carefully sings his way through the track while paying closer attention to how his vocal melody fits into the overall soundscape. Whispers are also used on several tracks including Don't Keep Me Waiting. They are okay. Nothing extraordinary. To replace those whispers with something else may leave unpleasant taste in your mouth.
Overall, this album defies expectation. It also refuses to play by the book. While the black metal spirit is there, it is no less than a lost wandering figment of what it once was. Its presence is pedestrian, bothering no one when it is there but the absence of which is felt throughout the day. Ingrats is the likeliest outcome when you put together members of Midnight Alumni, Zero 7 and Akira Yamaoka in one room with God Seed. The black metal section of, again, Everything's Fine is reminiscent of Gorgoroth's Of Ice and Movement. Keyboard and synthesizer effects are the main driving force behind this record. I hate to repeat myself here but if you happen to like video game music like I do, the piano arrangement on Ingrats resembles those written by Akira Yamaoka who is well known for his beautiful, soul-moving synthcraft in the Silent Hill franchise. The trip hop beat is present throughout the recording and to me, it doesn't sound out of place at all. Jusqu'au-Boutiste closes the album and this final song encapsulates everything that Netra has been working on so far. Blending trip hop and black metal is certainly unorthodox. Doing so could put one's career on the line. Like I said, many have tried, most have failed, but somehow Netra has managed to make it work.
If you are looking for something unusual that has black metal tag attached to it, I suggest you give this album a shot. I can't guarantee that will you like this album but Ingrats has taught me that in this day and age, expectation inhibits one's ability to grow and develop in ways so unique that eventually, you accept things the way they are, not the way you want them to be. This is a very lonely album. It has no peers. Given better exposure, this album may even make enemies among the ultra conservative few. It is certainly not for everyone. If you truly wish to enjoy this album like I do, you should forget everything you think you know about black metal and start learning a thing or two about trip hop and downtempo music.