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Likeable and very well-made BM / space rock fusion - 70%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, April 26th, 2010

JANVS is a black metal act that likes its name written or typed JANVS or Janus though MA readers familiar with these musicians probably know already that Internet search engines find JANVS or Janvs a lot faster than Janus! According to an Asgard Root zine article (in Issue 2, for those who are interested) I read, "Janvs" is not the preferred way of writing the band's name so it looks like JANVS has to do. "Vega" is the band's second album and its theme is based on going beyond your personal limitations to discover your true awareness and humanity. The overall style is melodic black metal with as much clear-toned electric guitar and tonal keyboard-based ambient work as there are rougher BM rhythms and vocals so the album acquires a strong post-metal / progressive art rock flavour.

"Torri di Vetro" is a strong opener and, apart from a short acoustic guitar passage in the middle, is usually vigorous throughout the song. There is aggression but it's very controlled. After "Torri di Vetro", the balance of the music tips away from BM to a more relaxed pace with fairly clean-toned singing in a dialogue with the hoarse BM vocals while lead guitar solos trill overhead on "Saphire". The balance switches back towards BM on the third track "Tarab" which also adds a cold space ambience and an unusual percussion rhythm so it looks as if the pattern for the entire album will be a zigzag one between two musical extremes. "Tarab" and the all-instrumental "Dazed" are very heavy on space ambience though in very different ways.

"Mediterraneo" is another angry yet controlled song in the style of "Torri di Vetro" but featuring more of the interstellar background atmosphere. Travel on and we come to the title track with JANVS's more relaxed and expansive melodic rock side featuring a guest vocalist with a strong and clear tenor voice. Of all the tracks here I like this song the least as the singing is rather too strong and loud and lacks subtlety. There is meant to be a dialogue with the whispered ghostly voices but the classically trained singer drowns them out. This is not necessarily his fault - his vocal track could have been mixed better with the rest of the song so that it could vary in volume and the other voices could come more to the fore. As a result the song comes over as very schmaltzy and I consider that over time this song will lose any freshness quicker than the rest of the recording. Come to the last track "Vesper II" and all the styles of music that have featured very prominently here come together in a very well-structured way though the joins between genres may sometimes be a bit abrupt. At least the drummer is able to combine the melodic art rock and black metal aspects in a way so that while the pace of the song tends to be on the slow side, the actual rhythms are very fast.

This is a very likeable and accessible album with catchy songs that initially seem distinct due to the contrast in style but if you mix up their order, some songs do turn out to share melodies and riffs - play "Saphire" and "Vesper II" together and it's clear in many ways they're like two parts of the one meta-song. Although JANVS is sometimes referred to as an experimental band, I think this could be a reference to the combination of black metal, melodic art rock and European space disco music the band uses as there really isn't anything here I'd call experimental. The musicians definitely could focus more on contrasting the black metal and space rock aspects a lot more, and let the tension between the two genres determine the flow of ideas and music. A distinct musical style could very well result - now that's what I would call experimental and original. As it is, "Vega" tends to sound "made-to-order" and is a bit too tasteful and smooth. There is aggression but it seems blunted, as if someone went to some trouble to smooth it over. For me, mellowing and controlling the aggression of black metal to make it blend with the other styles of music does them all a disservice - fusion music is as much about highlighting the contradictions within the musics involved as well as their similarities and points of agreement, it should never be about making the genres easy to swallow.

I can see this album gaining JANVS a lot of fans as it's well-made and very focussed, and the musicians are very consistent players, confident in their abilities in the different genres of music they play in. I'm actually surprised there are not more reviews of "Vega" and the previous album "Fvlgvres" on the MA entry for the band. Although I wish that the band could have let go with at least one short track of improvised, untidy and raw music with some sharp space ambient tones, I'm aware this might not agree with the overall concept of "Vega" and could even make it a lesser album.