Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2020
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Who the fuck knows, really. - 65%

Noktorn, February 19th, 2009

The burning question on this release really isn't why a black metal band is using so much in the way of electronics, but why an electronic group is bothering with a shoehorned black metal aesthetic. Beyond the very thin veneer of black metal elements, Ensepulchred resembles some gothic trip-hop act more than anything in the first, second, or theoretical third wave of black metal. There's a couple possible reasons for why they're choosing to make music with such an incongruous sound, and I'm inclined to believe the simplest: a strange breed of guilt in metalheads who also like other forms of music, and so when starting a project in a genre outside of metal feel some compulsion to inappropriately add metal elements in some strange effort to legitimize their dedication to the scene. The other, simpler possibility is that Ensepulchred is doing exactly what it's supposed to, in which case I have to wonder: why is their artistic vision is so deliberately awkward sounding?

It's not that I derive no enjoyment from this music; I do, and actually a surprising amount given how unmistakably bizarre it is. But the enjoyment I derive is from listening to it as electronic music rather than as black metal, and that would be fine if the intrusion of the black metal aesthetic wasn't so omnipresent and forced. The melodies resemble black metal to some degree at times, and the vocals are black metal shrieks, but the rest of it is, in essence, electronic music. So what's the big idea? This hardly works as a black metal album, and maybe I'm splitting hairs, but it doesn't really work as a black/electronic one either. Enespulchred seems to be one of a breed of newer bands like Ordo Tyrannis who are attempting a pretty brazen and head-on mix of black metal and electronic, but at least Ordo Tyrannis is attempting to do it through Skinny Puppy style industrial, while Ensepulchred's music sounds like it would belong in a club full of people in Sisters Of Mercy t-shirts were it not for all the goblin shrieks.

I believe every instrument on this release is synthesized apart from the vocals, or at least they've gone through so much processing that they might as well be. The guitars have an entirely unnatural, synthetic tone to them which practically screams that FL Studio was involved somewhere in the process, and they're pushed far into the background under just about everything else. The synths are omnipresent and take up most of the melodic space. The drum machine is almost impossibly machinelike, as though the band looked through every bit of information on how to make a drum machine sound natural and did the exact opposite; it pops and clicks with a procession of slowed-down double bass grooves and trip hop beats that would sound at home in a Lil Wayne song before a Darkthrone track. The only thing that sounds remotely real are the vocals, which are themselves distorted pretty heavily; they're a goblin-like shriek or occasional hissing whisper and actually propel the music along much more than the instruments themselves. The production is completely computerized and almost unbearably still and sterile; in short, the opposite of what black metal is 'supposed' to sound like.

The music is structured greatly like trance; there's little to no variation in the musical sections themselves and they're only tenuously connected by similar melodic themes and instead just sort of collide in empty space. The drum machine never transitions via a fill; it simply stops one beat and starts another, and the same goes for the rest of the music. The computerized, digital nature of the music is what makes the vocals so important; it's the main narrator of the music which propels everything along and forms a constant thread to follow through the short, simple compositions. The relative simplicity of brevity of the individual tracks is both natural and necessary to maintain listener interest; were the songs any longer they would become arduous, and were they more complex the digital tones would become unbearable.

Given how strange the aesthetic is, it's something of a shock that it's as listenable as it manages to be. The songs are all very similar to each other and the main melodies of each track are only about three or four notes long, and they probably more or less repeat themselves several times throughout the album, but the particular combination of trip hop beats and delicate synths somehow manages to carry the music without ever getting really boring. The vocals are surprisingly engaging and probably provide most of the bridge for the listener to actually be able to handle this stuff; were it instrumental it would seem completely pointless and rote, but now it's sort of an ambient backdrop to the actual 'action' provided by the vocals. It's an interesting technique, though again certainly in the domain of electronic music rather than black metal.

I'm sort of at a loss as to what the upshot of this music is. None of the songs particularly go anywhere or do anything, but not really in a bad way; they're just sort of arbitrary configurations of rhythms and melodies the drift along while the goblin vocals go crazy over them. In a way, it's a form of metal chillout music that manages to be exponentially less gay than, say, Agalloch, despite its roots in the electronic scene. It's fairly enjoyable to listen to although there's no actual content to speak of; most of the music was likely composed on a laptop while laying down on a couch, and there's no musical tension or variation to speak of; no peaks or valleys, no real progression anywhere. It's an interesting experiment (if it's an experiment at all), and although I'm not sure where the results of this should exactly go, it probably doesn't matter because it doesn't intend to go anywhere in the first place.

This is probably going to be a curiosity piece to most metalheads who aren't into laid-back electronic music, and even those who are into that sort of thing will likely just be confused and bothered by this, but at certain moments this has its place. It's not particularly abrasive or extreme, but it's worth a look just on virtue of how weird it is that people would actually make music like this. I only really like this sometimes and most others it falls flat, but I'd imagine there are about six people in the world who will get really, really into this and never listen to anything else, so you should acquire a copy of this just to see if you're one of the chosen few.

Unusual style of BM but actual music is a let-down - 50%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, March 26th, 2008

The version of the album under review is the Autopsy Kitchen Records one which features 16 short tracks of dreamy and slightly sinister atmospheric black metal. Ensepulchred's style is eccentric for black metal: what we would call guitars exist only in the background as a misty presence and their usual function is taken over by pure-toned 1980's synthpop keyboards and electronics. Drumming is the minimal drum-machine tapping often found in lo-fi bedroom BM (though Ensepulchred is a trio) and even the vocals are electronically treated so that they sound like a grim little goblin cursed with a continuous vocal diarrhoea and unable to stop complaining behind the electronics and tinny rhythms. The overall effect of the music is eerie and bewitching as though a bunch of woodland fairies and elves decided to form a black metal with miniature fairy versions of guitars, drums and keyboards.

None of the short tracks stands out in the way of definite rhythm patterns, riffs or melodies so they all tend to bleed into one another and are very like linked episodes in an ongoing black metal concept. The vocals hardly change from track to track: they start when the music starts (so, no proper all-instrumental introduction for most songs), stop when the music stops and keep up a breathless conversational patter in-between. The musicians sprinkle some of the music with samples from horror movies and documentaries - look out early on for track 6 "Macabre" for the spoken voice sample from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". While we're paying close attention to that and other samples, I should add that we need to follow the music closely anyway and forget about trying to pick out songs with great melodies or riffs: the whole recording is the thing we should look at, it's about a strange and enchanting, and also a little scary, alien dark depressive world. Variations in the music are to be found in its details - a couple of tracks feature some church organ but not much - and involve changes in the overall keyboard sound which can border on schmaltzy or cheesy.

For most people the main drawback of this album is that for 55 minutes it's very limited in what it does and stays within a comfort zone of its own making. The attractions of the album can wear out quickly even before the halfway mark. In a way Ensepulchred's brand of ambient BM resembles Striborg without the latter act's determined cantankerousness, virtuoso playing and slight acid guitar feel, and sometimes I can hear the wintry ambient side of Swiss act Paysage d'Hiver in the keyboard tones. Fans of Burzum's two-fingered keyboard music, if you exist, should check out "Suicide ..." as an example of what Varg Vikernes could have achieved in prison. It's quite frustrating in a way to listen to this album: the style of music is unique and refreshing in a way but the music can grow stale. It's a shame Ensepulchred don't take the soundtrack approach to making this album very far at all.

And what's really maddening is that the best tracks are actually at the end of the album: these are "Flesh" which is elaborated with rumbling volcano noises, touches of dulcet xylophone and almost-warm synth; and "The Eulogy of One Poignant Ra'Por" which appropriately ends up disappearing into a bubbling, boiling pool of mud, shit, noise and melted helicopter propellers. These are the only tracks that are mini-movie soundtracks in themselves and I wonder why that particular approach was not extended to other tracks on the album. I hear the Ensepulchred guys are fond of foreign horror movies, especially old Italian horror movies of thirty to forty years ago, and wonder why they didn't try to create mini-soundtracks for famous movies like "Suspiria" and "Cannibal Holocaust" on this album.