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Like a Silhouette... Dark and a Tad Inconsistent - 77%

Sean16, July 19th, 2009

Let’s put it bluntly, the casual attention Ava Inferi receives is primarily due to the fact Rune Eriksen aka Blasphemer of Mayhem fame is playing in it. What’s both unfair and irrelevant as first it’s an interesting, talented band which would deserve appreciation for what it genuinely is rather than for the names it consists in, second Blasphemer here is, precisely, a mere name as the music has nothing to do with Mayhem or anything black metal-related. Granted it’s very, very dark – but it’s a darkness of a different nature, if you see what I mean.

The Silhouette is without doubt a soft release, often more in the lines of slow gothic metal than actual doom. This isn’t necessarily a bad point, but the listener expecting anything intensely crushing will most probably be disappointed. If electric guitars still occupy the front of the scene, they’ve nonetheless to share it from time to time with a very present piano which, even if it isn’t overwhelmingly intrusive (it’s almost totally absent from some songs), still influences the overall sound a lot. Some acoustic guitars may also be heard, though the closing track Pulse of the Earth is the only one where they’re more than anecdotal. The production is exceptionally clear and straightforward, totally devoid of any ill-placed distortion, considerably reinforcing the hopeless feel of the whole album. If a rawer sound would have most likely introduced an additional misty, atmospheric vibe, it would also have made it, paradoxically, friendlier. This release being, on the contrary, particularly unfriendly in its sheer simplicity or more accurately, austerity. And if the band didn’t completely escape the standard useless samples (water on A Dança das Ondas, fire on Wonders of Dusk...) let’s just ignore them.

The vocals are a model in simple efficiency as well, being exclusively provided by a lyric female singer. Carmen Simões is an excellent vocalist, nothing to do with the pop crap usually sold as operatic singers of the poor, however these omnipresent, mixed up, atypical vocals are likely to turn another chunk of the audience down, the a capella interlude Oathbound working as the ultimate test – if you can survive it, then you must be ready for Ava Inferi.

As may be guessed to keep the listener’s interest alive on such an austere, spartan work the songwriting had to be exemplar, and that’s where the band somehow partially failed – I said partially only, as the good moments easily outlive the obvious filling parts. Still there are a couple of empty tracks like The Abandoned or Grin of Winter which aren’t bad per se, but don’t do anything to distinguish themselves from the bulk of the release. Of the two epics the majestic The Dual Keys is by far the most accomplished with its almost upbeat middle section, Viola on the other hand dragging on seemingly in lack of a proper direction. The opening and closing tracks are amongst the most original here, with on one side the both minimalist and melodic A Dança das Ondas to settle the mood and on the other side the acoustic guitars and percussions of Pulse of the Earth to end up on a much lighter note. Thinking about it, this was much welcomed. However when everything is about gloom and despair the medal has of course to be awarded to the gloomiest moment, La Stanza Nera. Talking of a ballad on an album where the tempo ranks from slow to very slow makes little sense, but this is nonetheless probably that song’s most accurate description – a ballad from the cold.

The Silhouette is overall a subtle release, a release taking some time to get into, and it’s also one of these releases which appreciation will depend a lot on the listener’s mood. Even now there are times I can’t prevent myself from finding it incredibly boring. Well it’s obviously not the case while I’m typing this review which wouldn’t be so positive otherwise, but it’s more like an encouragement for the potential listener to give it several chances before stating a definitive opinion. It’s also a confirmation it still has to beefed up a bit, too.

Highlights: A Dança das Ondas, The Dual Keys, La Stanza Nera

Shadows in flight - 95%

blackoz, November 30th, 2007

I was pretty well over the sound of electric guitar until I heard Mayhem. The late Euronymous and his successor Blasphemer showed there was still life in the old plank yet, new sounds and new ways of executing them.

Blasphemer, real name Rune Erickson (now spelt Eriksen), is a sonic architect. Guitar solos, in the conventional rock god sense, are not his thing. He’s about symphonic chord structures, textures, shifting patterns of light and dark and fleeting shadows of emotion. You can forget about Tin Pan Alley verse-chorus song arrangements. Those used to Eriksen’s cadaver-slicing work in Mayhem, however, must see it now as only one aspect of his vision. Ava Inferi is another, quite separate facet altogether.

“Burdens”, Ava Inferi’s debut release, was most impressive. A funereal tone poem, it features but doesn’t over-emphasize the voice of Portuguese singer Carmen Simoes. The vocalist is almost forced into the backline as an instrument, a first viola. The result is a beautiful synthesis of melancholic melody, rich and dark. It’s an album that repays several listens.

“The Silhouette”, on the other hand, brings Simoes right to the forefront. There’s more air and space to both sound and composition giving her plenty of room to dominate. And what a voice! With effortless power and control, Simoes possesses a sensuous, simmering mezzo timbre that evokes, appropriately, the bouquet of fine vintage port. For the most part she sings low but can soar to dizzying heights with star-shooting accuracy. The new album features more vocal harmony throughout than the debut and the harmonies are just sublime. Carmen Simoes’ voice is a wonderful new discovery. While the rest of the world seems bent on “discovering” the latest new R ’n’ B and urban folk chanteuse, Simoes emerges from an unlikely source as simply the best and most original new singer in any genre.

Compared with his work on “Burdens”, Eriksen’s guitar sound on this album has lost almost all of its Mayhemic touches, with the exception of his octave work. This is not necessarily a bad thing. This isn’t Mayhem. The guitar tones throughout “The Silhouette” are gorgeous, if a little less original than Eriksen’s Mayhem work. The compositions, though, are all his and Mayhem fans will easily pick up on some of his signature phrases, chord progressions and dramatic flourishes.

“Burdens” was a rather one-paced effort, and “The Silhouette” shares the debut’s preference for stately tempos. As the disc progresses, though, the pace begins to cut loose and accelerate. The final track, “Pulse of the Earth”, sees the band really start to motor but in truth it’s a more a mirage. The drums play double time as the band stays in cruise control allowing Simoes’ lachrymose melodies to soar above the bar lines. I'm not sure if we'll ever see this band really rock out.

Commendation is deserved for the rich and present production. No mention anywhere of 48-bit mastering but, notwithstanding, this is definitely a test disc for your next hi-fi purchase. Season of Mist’s design and packaging, as with “Burdens”, richly complement the music.

Like its predecessor, “The Silhouette” makes for delicious enjoyment either as background music or focused listening. Favourite track? Hard to pick but I’ll go for “Viola” with its thematic structure and memorable closing refrain.

I’ve listened to the album three times in succession. What better recommendation?