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Monte Penumbra > Heirloom of Sullen Fall > Reviews
Monte Penumbra - Heirloom of Sullen Fall

Atonal BM sludge and artiness fighting for space - 80%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, June 10th, 2016

One band trafficking in the realm of blackened occult sludge metal is Portuguese duo Monte Penumbra whose members might be well known to MA readers familiar with Abo Imo Pectore and Israthoum. "Heirloom of Sudden Fall" is MP's debut recording and (so far) their only album release. At 35 minutes in length, the release might seem very short for something fairly slow but the music turns out to be packed full of surprises that go far beyond its genre.

The first few times I heard this album, I was reminded of Ved Buens Ende in parts so fans of that band might be keen to give this album a spin. The atmosphere is certainly dark as you'd expect from this set of serious daemon worship, and there are unusual rhythms and hooks and sudden tempo changes a-plenty here. Some of the clean-toned, one-note monotonous singing definitely reminds me of Ved Buens Ende and even the feel and attitude on some songs can be reminiscent of that band's bleakest and most introspective moments. While the foundation music is definitely doom and black metal crossover played with skill and enthusiasm, the MP guys bring in ambient effects, experimental improv, driving rock grooves, post-rock and even industrial and trippy elements.

"By Depths Occult" is a strong and dramatic opener with brooding atmospheric keyboard wash and a chilly and sinister slow guitar melody solo that erupt into a mean and hungry prowling beast with a catchy groove and a steely bass riff structure that injects muscle, power and grind into the whole track. Anyone afraid of meeting this wolf with bared fangs in the dark should leave right now. The next track, "Dark Figure", is the one that brings Ved Buens Ende to mind with those clean voices seemingly hypnotised and chanting rather than singing the lyrics. The loping music suddenly tails off into a space vacuum where notes float and all seems lost, before that break in the space-time continuum closes up and the instruments resume their hard driving and punching routine. Still, there is something unsettling about that song, as though the parallel universe that suddenly opened up and then closed left behind some ectoplasm that will create havoc later in the album.

The next couple of tracks are fairly straightforward hard-driving post-metal / doom dripping with menace and occasionally featuring spacey ambient effects and vocals ranging from typical BM rasp to the kind of strangled rocks-in-the-throat singing that I associate with a lot of sludge and hardcore. People who love their headbanging crunch and others who like to be surprised with arty experimentation in small doses will be happy here. Likewise the last couple of tracks on the album are straight-ahead sludge / post-metal / post-rock with their avantgarde moments but you start to realise that the to-ing and fro-ing between the metal on the one hand and the ambient / spaced-out trippiness / industrial on the other don't come to a climax or any kind of resolution or compromise, and the album descends into a droning black-hole whimper rather than out in a blaze of cacophonous glory.

The album's true glory is "Kinaesthetic Smoke" which features the trippiest, tranciest wet-flubby tribal rhythms I ever heard this side of that torn space-time continuum. Damn it, that tear brought with it some alien shaman beings doing their mercury rain-dance routine. For the most part, the track features monstrous sludge guitar rhythms with creepy background chanting vocals before falling into an abyss of strange giant robot flamingo stalking drone.

While the guys' musicianship is in no doubt as to skill and consistency, their choices in mixing the bizarre with the more conventional might exasperate a few listeners. Some songs build up power and intensity in their riffing and melodies, only for this to be deflated by a passage of dark vacuum inhabited by squiggles, after which the music has to reconstruct what was lost. The early tracks and "Kinaesthetic Smoke" are definitely the highlights of the album while later music, though well done, does suffer in comparison and end up sounding like filler.

I think the music might work a bit better if the experimental and the atonal music didn't always have to share space in the same songs but rather were kept apart and alternating from one song to the next (or the album divided into two sections, one post-metal with some experimentation and the other more obviously unstructured and highly experimental) at least until MP realise that being clever and arty for its own sake isn't enough and that the music has to serve its themes of the occult and darkness.