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This band is going to be a source of interest for most of you based mainly on the fact that it includes Ihsahn of the mighty Emperor, and doubtlessly you've heard of Peccatum in that relation before: always connected to Emperor, always as a side-project (the black metal kings even took this unholy union of filial ties out on the road with them, as I'm sure you also know), and always on a lower level of priority. Listening to this three song EP makes me think that this is mainly a vanity project, since the three members (except Ihriel?) have other bands, and Peccatum has never really had a strictly defined style of their own. Mix elements of Emperor with Source of Tide outtakes, melancholy violins, slow drums, warped soloing, and some of the more left-of-center ideas floating around in Ihsahn and Ihriel's brains and you will find yourself immersed within Peccatum's sound. Of course when Candlelight was promoting the first album, Strangling from Within, the initial single release was a song that sounded a lot like Emperor - those of you who bought the album discovered to your chagrin, I am sure, that the rest of the record did not live up to that first single. Either Emperor just has a huge fanbase that buys everything connected to Ihsahn, or he is forcing every one of little projects out on Candlelight for ego's sake (probably under the threat that Emperor will fly over to another label) and not a single Thou Shalt Suffer or Peccatum unit is being moved. I wonder. This EP will probably offend a great deal of you based just on the operatic vocals and the inclusion of techno beats and a Judas Priest cover. Normally I would probably praise a band for including things like this in their music given the conformist nature of the metal scene, but my laudatory remarks would center, for the most part, on the band's courage or tenacity - not the fact that elements such as these are 'needed' in metal or extreme music. I will praise this band, however, because I think they have finally crystallized the musical essence of sheer pretentiousness, and I am thankful for that because in the future when I am looking to compare some album to a work of high pretense I can just point to Peccatum. It makes my job easier. Pretentiousness, just for the record, is not synonymous with 'high art'. That is a mistake that stems, I believe, from metal musicians equating Wagner with the summit of melodic creation. They couldn't be farther from the truth. The day that Wagner finally slips into obscurity will be a happy day for me. His music is still very much a touchstone for artists seeking 'elitist' influences, as much now as it ever was (even poor Nietzsche came under his spell, and have you heard his piano music?) and elitist 'philosophies' have never mixed well with truly creative endeavors. Why? Because I believe the true artist is always humble in the face of creation.
My feeling is that Ihsahn's ego is probably so large now that it takes up a sizable portion of Norwegian real estate (you wondered where all those Emperor royalty checks were going, didn't you? Rent, I say) and he no longer cares what people say about his music because he is 'above' all of that. This is a great situation if the musician with this attitude takes his/her new-won freedom and puts it to work by composing novel, legitimate music. On the other hand (and this is the way it usually turns out, in my experience) musicians who have had their self-editing apparatus removed start to quickly lose any 'edge' they might have had and will put out almost anything - they lose their perspective, their drive.
But what about this EP? I realize that I am not the most knowledgeable critic of 'operatic' vocals, but Lord PZ's voice just grates on my ears... he sounds horrible, to tell you the truth. His vocals are so annoying to me that I could not even attempt a review of the Source of Tide album that Candlelight sent over earlier. Ihriel is at least tasteful when it comes to the control of her voice, but you know when the bio for a release calls for a 'sensitive understanding' of the album being offered, that it is sure to offend someone on some level. 'Great!', I say, but if it is going to offend, can it not be based on its own well-developed style and an original vision? When did 'original' start to mean that you just include musical elements from other genres outside extreme metal? If a work is going to offend, can't it be because it breaks with established tradition and not because it is actually physically painful to listen to? I am guessing the first Peccatum didn't meet with critical acclaim outside of the mainstream press, where everything even remotely connected to Emperor is praised to high heaven (sycophants, history will judge you) - thus the defensive stance of the record company. Listening to this makes me fear the next Emperor album, and that's a bad thing. To be honest, I would like to just hear Ihriel do something on her own.
One thing the listener must cease to do, in order to enjoy this, is expect traditional accessibility, and he/she must be ready for truly odd, and experimental, chaotic textures. This music goes more for a Gothic inspired artsy presentation, and really veridically encapsulates a lot of random emotion. The dynamics ebb and weave behind thickly layered patterns of voices, synths, classical instruments, and crushing percussion in very fantastical, endlessly progressing forward, melodic structures. There are a lot of technical embellishments (2nd pattern in "Rise, Ye Humans"), adding depth to the ideas in general, and the sheer variety presented really speaks of the talent of the musicians.
The vocals are certainly matched to the music well enough, with great highlights like all the falsetto in "Blood Red Skies", or the deep clean male voice in the opening of "Rise, Ye Humans". But it goes with out saying that they are either leaning towards a classical style, or an extreme black metal style generally, and this can put some Metal fans off (especially the female voicing). But, the dramatic style often presented really does build upon the rhythms and dynamics well, and as far as ability and range there is certainly optimum variation here, constantly being projected in a dueling round the tonic.
The title track is my pick for best of. Its also probably the most accessible of the 3. The opening track is seemingly so labored it becomes really abstracted in avant mannerisms, which in, its aesthetics become rather artistically heightened, but loses some of the cohesion towards the elements I most enjoy here.The Priest cover is great, they certainly made the song "their own" so to say, but its certainly not a cover that everyones gonna appreciate.
Just three tracks here, but definitely an enjoyable 20 minutes, check it out.
I love Emperor, I think they're one of the best black metal bands ever. And there's no doubt that Ihsahn actually is a talented musician. But there's a lot of things that make this and mostly every other Peccatum release, sound shit.
Firstly, operatic vocals are not to be taken lightly. The singers who specialize in the field "Opera" spend their entire lifetime practising. You also need talent. You could practise your entire life, yet not be any good at all. This is a major problem on this release. The operatic vocals on display here are not good. At best, they are completely average. Metal musicians that don't know any better would pass this up as pretty good vocals. Show this to a talented opera musician and he/she would laugh hard in your face. In my opinion, if you can't do it, then don't try.
Secondly. The acoustic passages with all the delightful synthness on display, are fucking awful. I have troubles enjoying a flute, but when its a flute played through midi modules, then fucking count me out. This kind of horrible instrumentation pops up halfway through "Rise, Ye Humans." I hope one day, musicians will start using good synths, or just don't use them at all. Maybe just hire in the extra musicians, and it will sound 100 times better.
When the metal music kicks in, it does remind of Emperor at times, but the disjointed feel of the entire thing makes it hard to enjoy. And a drum machine, now that is just wrong. Especially if it could easily be played by a human, then please use a real living person. Drum machines are solely for the purpose of synthetic sounding drums, for use in industrial and ubergrind Agoraphobic Nosebleed music. This music gives me the feel that it should be organic, hence the drum machine does not fit at all.
I will commend Ihsahn for actually trying, but for me, it just doesn't work. This is music that is good on paper, but has trouble living it up in audio. And I think Ihsahn understands this too, cause on his solo album "The Adversary" this kind of music is used to great effect. I think Ihsahn is a musician who is constantly evolving, and this mini album was just a phase for him.
Still, don't dig into this, unless you are a true fan of all of Ihsahn's music. Get his new solo album "The Adversary" instead. To me, that is the pinnacle of Ihsahn post-Emperor to this day.
This three-track EP, released prior to Amor Fati in 2000, is one of Peccatum's oddest works. For starters, the longest song on the EP is a cover, albeit brilliantly reinvisioned. It is also their only release to date to feature live strings, used quite well in the quieter moments of this album. And it _might_ just be the most straightforward of the group's albums, although that could certainly be debated.
The album begins with Rise, Ye Humans, an odd track marred by Ihriel's reckless vibrato towards the end and the vocal wankery by all three singers in the middle sections, but which maintains interesting instrumentation almost throughout. The combination of synth orchestrals, the live violin and guitars in some of the leads work brilliantly, although the repetitive closing section seems like aimless dissonance on all fronts.
The EP regains ground with the last two tracks. The live strings are used to maximum melancholic effect to compliment Ihriel's (singing on-key, finally) mournful opening to Oh, My Regrets, before the intro gives way to a speedy black-ish section with some beautiful vocal harmonies and the strings faint in the background. Structurally, the song does little more than alternate between these two parts, but things are kept concise, and musicianship is favored over some of the grating vocal theatrics that Lord PZ and Ihriel often use (although dig, if you will, what seems to be Ihsahn's well-intentioned take on Mr. Doctor's style of singing, sprechstimme, midway through.), and every element of the song is there for a reason.
Same, too, with Blood Red Skies, a VERY intriguing Judas Priest cover that captures almost every aspect of that song, from the solid guitar solo, to the vague aroma of cheese. The acoustic intro from the original tune is replaced with the extremely effective live strings, which reappear for one of the verses and again as the song fades out. No harsh vox here, although the slightly mangled delivery of the original lyrics may cause die-hard Priest fans to wince. Again, nothing here really seems out of place; although both Ihsahn and PZ strain to attempt some semblance of Halford's high notes, they and Ihriel keep the singing straightforward. And the lead riff, one of the better composed in metal's history, IMO, is excellently interpreted.
So, 2 and a half out of three ain't bad. It's not the most distinctive Peccatum album (for better or for worse), but the group worked well here, given that Ihsahn was probably all-consumed at the time with pretty much singlehandedly churning out Prometheus, Emperor's last disc.