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Feminine Expression of Anguish - 90%

666Micrograms, February 26th, 2013

Sharing the pacific coast with Agalloch, a fair aesthetic comparison should made musically between Ludicra and the aforementioned. Both share drummer Aesop Dekker and both bands lay on the same outer-fringe of black metal's more artful side. However the similarities essentially end there. Ludicra was a female fronted band from Oakland, California that disbanded in 2011, following the release of their fourth LP, The Tenant. With delicate compositions and a robust and diverse soundscape, this album stands as an under-appreciated progressive black metal masterpiece.

The Tenant's most apparent strengths lie in its ability to balance not only its emotional expression but the diverse range of influences that sculpt Ludicra's sound. From a songwriting standpoint, nothing here is presented in excess yet nothing is so fleeting it leaves the listener unsatisfied, and thanks to impressive musicianship there is a bevy of emotional contrast to work with. This much is made clear by the end of the opening track Stagnant Pond, that seamlessly switches between emotionally charged riffing and enchanting choruses, all rounded out by an uplifting and wonderfully executed guitar solo. Another point made very clear early on is that the band isn't one to settle for repetitive passages, instead The Tenant stands as a relentlessly captivating ride that keeps the ball rolling for its entire 50 minute duration.

With subtle hints of celtic folk presenting itself in the music theory, each instrument and vocal style is used to its most impactful emotive effect. With the singing, both the torturous harsh screams and witchlike cleans, being handled by the female fraction of the band, each element is enacted with more emotion than most of their male counterparts could hope to muster. This resonating humanity within the album is only further compounded when the two are layered together, creating a vividly frantic and mysterious vibe that follows the listener like shadow throughout.

Themed around the idea of entrapment within a crumbling society, and the resulting hinderance of one's psychological sanctity, The Tenant deals primarily is drug addiction, despair and hopelessness. When coupled with the poetically misanthropic lyrics, the beautiful album cover and expressive liner art that depict the band members trapped behind apartment windows, rattles the soul to the core. The contrast mentioned earlier is beautifully presented in the dynamic between topic and atmosphere, the latter of which is a rather a freeing and cleansing experience. This dynamic is the ultimate epitomization of escapism, one whose forlorn imagery lies in clear sight, but is effervescently veiled by a convincing sense of hope that seemingly lies in far off lands, real and imaginary.

They are human herds of patience
They slouch and shift their weight
They remain in the cracks
They remain in the fray

Frowned up are the weak and worn
For they reek of sick and sorrow

For an album so consumed by its own emotionally heavy atmosphere, The Tenant's musical expression never strays from being anything but smooth, creamy and audibly delicious. This much at least could be compared to Sweden's Shining, who play also play a unique brand of hard rock-tinted depressive black metal. The bass is always present in the mix and does wonders at driving the guitars by keeping everything moving gallant and consistent pace. The guitar work is nothing short of impressive as every single note on the album is carefully placed to yield its utmost emotional impact, and there is no shortage of passion of to be found with Ludicra's axe-wielders, hosting tasteful acoustics and irresistibly metal riffs. Despite the consistency of the album's sound, it is very instrumentally diverse, with each track having many standalone moments of brilliance that make it instantly memorable. Moments like the galloping riffs found on the longest track, The Undercaste or the impactful progressions from forceful rhythms of to regal open chords found on Clean White Void, which also features the strongest guitar solo on the album.

Aesop Dekker, who has worked extensively with Agalloch handles the drumming and anyone familiar with the band's work will be able to instantly pull comparisons both stylistically and aesthetically with newer releases like Marrow Of The Spirit. Seldom falling prey to tasteless blast beating, the majority of the album dotted with percussion that uses curious insertions of syncopation make itself standout, all the while taking great strides to accentuate the lead guitar's blistering riffs. Of course when called up, tastefully executed blast beats make appearance and always do nothing short of charge the music like a lightening bolt. To make an album this successful it takes more than passion and keen instrumentation alone. To pull a work of art like this, the communication between the instruments is key, and Ludicra do so better than just about everyone in the genre.

Combining a hauntingly beautiful femine touch and tastefully artful expression, Ludicra's final masterwork is a musical achievement unto itself. One that highlights every redeeming quality of the black metal while discarding all the needlessly opaque layers of angst that plague the genre. The Tenant is an epic contrast of damnation and salvation, of hope and despair. It feels as though this was something the members of Ludicra -needed- to write. Something this passionate simply can't come from anywhere but the very heart of one's soul.

[ Published originally on sputnikmusic: ]

A Well Rounded and Mature Release - 80%

CrimsonFloyd, July 19th, 2011

Ludicra have never been a band to repeat the same album twice. Each release involves new dimensions, song structures and production techniques. “The Tenant” continues this trend, differing quite significantly from its predecessor, “Fex Urbis Lex Orbis”. While “Fex…” was a spontaneous, emotional roller-coaster, “The Tenant” takes a much more reflective attitude. If “Fex…” is an explosive and exhausting burst of fury, then “The Tenant” is the solemn reflection upon the event the following day. Appropriately, “The Tenant” is generally slower (mostly staying in mid tempo), less biting and more composed. The songwriting is very focused, ordered and directed. The album seamlessly interweaves differing elements: heavy metal with black metal, clean vocals with growled vocals, acoustic passages with electric passages.

In addition to the shift in songwriting, “The Tenant” includes several other key changes. First, there is a major increase in Christy Cather’s clean vocals. Cather’s voice is flat, monotone and somewhat disconnected, which fits well with the controlled, reflective attitude of the album. Second, “The Tenant” has much more of a heavy metal influence than previous albums. There are numerous crunchy, head banging riffs throughout the album, as well as other heavy metal signatures, such as the dueling guitar solo at the end of “Clean White Void”. Third, the musicianship is much improved over previous albums. Cather’s lead guitar has especially progressed and this album contains the best solos of her career.

On the downside, the somber, reflective attitude of the album does not draw out the best from lead vocalist Laurie Sue Shanaman. Shanaman is one of the best vocalists in contemporary black metal scene, deploying a wide spectrum of sounds ranging from banshee like howls to snarling grunts. Shanaman was in top form on the wild and unrestrained "Fex...". Unfortunately, Shanaman is much more reserved on “The Tenant”. While a more reserved vocal style does fit the overall attitude of the album, those who know Shanaman’s full capacities will be left wanting more.

Nonetheless, “The Tenant” is a highly consistent album with all seven tracks offering something different. My personal favorites are the first two songs. “Stagnant Pond” captures the melancholy mood of the album through slowly swaying melodic riffs that patiently build toward a blistering solo and choirs of soft, clean vocals. “A Larger Silence” involves Shanaman’s most intense vocal performance and layers of anxious, paper thin tremolo.

On the whole, “The Tenant” is a solid, well rounded and mature release. While it lacks the fire that drove albums like “Fex…” and “Hallow Psalms”, it does contain excellent composition, songwriting and musicianship. This is certainly not the place to start with Ludicra (go for “Fex…"), but is highly recommended for fans of the band.

(Originally written for

Feminine Black Metal - 90%

FullMetalAttorney, January 11th, 2011

Profound Lore Records had one hell of a year in 2010, with seemingly all of their releases garnering critical praise and ending up on year-end lists, not the least of which was Agalloch's Marrow of the Spirit. It has firmly established itself as the label for thinking-man's metal, and Ludicra's The Tenant is just one more prominent example.

Ludicra shares not only a record label with Agalloch, but also a drummer (Aesop Dekker) and a penchant for writing music that's vaguely related to black metal, but ends up more pretty than black metal's forefathers ever intended. The bass is very prominent throughout the album, grounding things with a groove on opener "Stagnant Pond". It's what actually keeps things sounding metal, as the guitars mostly play high-pitched chords with very little obvious distortion. The drums are simple and unobtrusive, doing exactly as much as they should.

While there are some similarities to other progressive-minded black metal bands (Nachtmystium and Cobalt especially, but also brief similarities to Enslaved) there is also a huge difference: This is decidedly feminine black metal. The primary vocalist (the screecher) and the guitarist/backing vocalist (the clean singer) are both women, and it seems they must be the driving force behind the band. It's certainly not the dude from Slough Feg and Gwar who's writing these pretty, delicate melodies. But by calling it pretty and feminine, I don't mean to diminish any of its metallic qualities. The music still manages to be heavy and even aggressive in some places. It also covers a lot of ground, from the somewhat staccato heaviness of "In Stable", to the doom-like "The Undercaste", to the vaguely psychedelic solo on "A Larger Silence". But mostly it centers on isolated-sounding sadness.

Highlights include "Stagnant Pond", "Clean White Void", and the title track, all of which feature riffs that will definitely stick in your mind. See also the riff that starts around 5:10 on "The Undercaste". "A Larger Silence" is the weakest of the bunch, but even it's not bad. Far from being a cacaphony of necro-sounding tremolo riffs, this is very accessible, yet it still manages to stir the primal parts of your brain stem.

The Verdict: Black metal is usually a man's game. Ludicra gives it a feminine touch, and the album would be worth checking out only for that different perspective. But the music is strong as well, so you really have no excuse not to give it a listen.

originally written for

The Tenants of a Unique Sound - 81%

PigfaceChristus, June 29th, 2010

“The Tenant” is probably Ludicra’s most accessible album to date, which is saying a lot considering the band has never been too indigestible. That’s doesn’t mean it’s a bad album, of course. It just means that “The Tenant” is doing the same melancholy and the same angst in a much more streamlined way. Nevertheless, the album has its own character and occupies a place in Ludicra’s discography that had until this year been unfilled.

Right from “Stagnant Pond,” the first thing that strikes the listener is the immensely pronounced bass guitar sound. It’s been quite a while since I’ve heard such a prominent bass in a standard lineup. Ross Sewage doesn’t do anything particularly outstanding, but the general mellow feeling of the music doesn’t call for him to show off. Instead, the rockish thumping of the bass gives the album a broody and heavy texture when it needs it most.

“The Tenant” is so concentrated on lead-work that the production’s emphasis on the bass is really a necessity to make the album sound heavier. Otherwise the album would have suffocated under its own melodic flourishes. It’s not that the lead-work and solos are particularly insubstantial, but they aren’t incredibly captivating because the guitars are so squeaky clean. In general, however, they fit the songs very well. “Truth Won’t Set You Free,” for instance, features lead-work that sounds like an out-of-control spiraling down the drain or a crazed circus. I’d much prefer the dreamy acoustic passages and dead choir crooning of “The Undercaste” over solos any day, but Ludicra, in their continuing success, were probably thinking of what sort of compositions would be more interesting to watch in a live setting.

Shanaman puts on a satisfying performance, not her best but not her worst. Except for in “Stagnant Pond,” her vocals don’t quite have a bite to them, but she and Cather still keep to the sustained shrieks and dispassionate clean vocals that have become inseparable from Ludicra’s personality. Shanaman is layered frequently, perhaps too frequently as though to compensate for some lack of heaviness in the music, a lack which not even the speed of “A Larger Silence” can convincingly mask. Her screams, after all, are really the only thing that makes the title track a metal song, as opposed to the pensive rock tune that the easy beat and wispy guitars make it out to be.

Through “The Tenant,” Ludicra harness the sensibilities of recent West Coast innovation to produce an album that is mellow, melodic, and metal all at the same time. “The Tenant” might not be quite as quirky as their other releases, but it’s certainly not a betrayal of their established persona by any stretch of the imagination. The album is anything but typical and doesn’t sacrifice accessibility for experimentation. With great albums already under the band’s belt, it would be tough to say that Ludicra have outdone themselves with this release, but they have stayed true to their cross-genre style, while adding a fresh voice to their own discography.

The escape from confinement - 89%

atanamar, March 27th, 2010

Amidst the gorgeous album art and liner notes for The Tenant, there are pictures of each band member in the confines of an apartment, peering at us through a window. For me, The Tenant is all about confinement (lyrically), and the escape from its grasp (musically).

Ludicra easily harness the powers of atmospheric black metal to express melancholy and disgust. Laurie Sue Shanaman's screaming voice is the ideal vessel for utter anguish. The Tenant builds upon that black metal bedrock to build a complex and beautiful edifice. The guitars progress from that subterranean aesthetic into realms of major chord contentment, triumphant crescendo and thrashing release. Laurie Sue Shanaman's screech slides into semi-chanted, melodic singing. Her Nico-like croon takes us far afield from the expected. At times, Christy Cather offers her own tortured vocals to the mix, often on top of the clean singing.

In “A Larger Silence,” bouncing acoustic passages flow into victorious guitar solos. The song ponders the act of suicide, presumably by jumping off a bridge, and asks “Does it feel effortless? Does it feel free? Is it as easy as they say?” “In Stable” thrashes like “Devil's Island” while Laurie Sue Shanaman laments being “Suffocated (in bags) of compulsion.” An enthralling NWOBHM riff intervenes to recall the best moments of Cobbett-era Slough Feg, tinged with strands of The Fucking Champs.

Aesop Dekker ably helms the ship through all manner of rhythmic seas. His drumming rises above the din at times and we get a glimpse of the absurd talent at work. Ross Sewage can be heard throughout the album, pulling us through the depths with a bass sound that is perfectly mixed while maintaining an acquatic rumble. John Cobbett and Christy Cather deliver an endless array of riffage that is ultimately progressive in its scope.

“The Undercaste” starts with an intro that wouldn't be out of place on Powerslave, then quickly shifts into a shuffle built on a memorable guitar melody. The song explores the meaning of hardship and hunger as well as the plight of the weak and worn. “There's never enough (of anything) to go around.” Clean guitars mix with harmonious leads and evoke visions of doom. The song descends into melancholy and the clean depths of layered voices. Despite lasting 10 minutes, “The Undercaste” never tests my patience.

“Truth Won't Set You Free” starts again from a point of hopelessness, but moves into vast and shifting melodies that certainly touch upon the might of Weakling. The tone shifts perceptibly throughout the song, moving closer and closer to furious victory. At the six minute mark, the guitars launch into a glorious staccato thrash; it's certainly one of the best riffs on the album.

The title track finally sheds light on the curious album photos, exploring the meaning of confinement “Within your walls of want, The frame in which you haunt.” “The Tenant” is probably the most progressive track on the album, dealing out mid-paced, arpeggiated chords that shift from dark to light at 4/4 speed.

In the end, I'm enjoying The Tenant very much, and I think I will be for a long time. The album conveys a host of emotions via excellent songwriting, and never for a minute does it exude eau de fromage. Ludicra have a completely unique and recognizable sound; I imagine it takes an open mind of sorts to appreciate their vision.

Originally published here: