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Suffused brilliance - 92%

Egregius, June 14th, 2004

Rakoth seems to release albums of consistently high quality, but also of very inconsistent character. After having made a soaring emergence in the western metalworld with their second album, Planeshift, fans were quick to find out how their next release sounded, and were equally quick to dismiss it as 'experimental'.

This release is really a re-release of old works. Four songs are from the Dark Age Chronicles demo (that were all included on their debut album), one song is from around the same period (also included on the debut), two songs made their first appearance on the debut, and two songs were written after Planeshift. The songs have all been re-recorded in december 2000, utilising the 'Russian Grotesque Live Orchestra'.

The album features a number of elements you might recognize from Planeshift, blazing black metal guitars parts, synths, soothing flute-tones and the combo of clean vocals and harsh screams from the two vocalists. This time around, there seems to be a lot more of the clean vocals, as the old songs were probably geared towards only clean vocals. The drummer has been replaced by a drumcomputer because of practical reasons (according to the band). While I suspected the drums on Planeshift to already be from a machine, I have to say I'm kinda blown away by the different drumprogramming on this album. At times it's irregular! Irregular as in not sticking to the same rythm during the course of a set of drumnotes, yet still managing to come out as fitting to the music.

The drumming is only one part of what makes this album different. As I mentioned, fans of Planeshift were quick to dismiss this album as being a step in the wrong direction, being too experimental. This idea is further reinforced by being on Code666, which has now turned into the avant-gardistic sublabel Elitist records of Earache records, with labelmates such as Ephel Duath.

But anyway, trivia aside, anyone of you remember what made Planeshift so great? The combination of more introverted soft parts, accompanied by soft and soothing flutes-melodies, alternated by blazing tremolo-picked guitar-fury over which alternatively clean vocals and harsh black metal screams were used, all combining to build a great (fantasy) atmosphere, right? One of the niftier aspects of that album was how so much happened in each song. With 2 vocalists and 2 guitarists, and both live flutes AND synths, each song was very rich in sound. Each time you listen to the album, you can discover new elements, or even new layers. Now imagine the synths being partly replaced by stuff like violins, and partly being reinforced by violins and some other classical instruments (like trumpets). The result is an overwhelmingly rich sound in which several aspects of the music vie for the listeners attention. Not everything is used all the time, and when a lot is thrown into the mix, you can often follow the direction of various instrument from the flow of the parts it played before the rest got added. I've got to give massive respect to whoever produced this album, as everything is very audible in the mix, no matter if both flutes, violins and both vocalists are present at the same moment.

The way the songs are written also make it that every instrument seems to connect to the others, even when playing different melodies. This makes it possible that each song consists of several seemingly disjointed smaller parts, that effortlessly flow into eachother. A monumental crescendo can follow a slow piece and then revert to the previous theme within the space of half a minute. These recurring themes make it possible for each song to be intensely compact, yet span several minutes.

Yet, if what I say holds truth, how can so many people be dissapointed? The answer is that the music is perhaps slightly too rich in elements and variation. Far from being inconsistent, it is actually harder to pick up the line of each song. On a grande scale each song carefully builds up an atmosphere, and the songs do listen like a story, flowing from one scene to another with slightly different casts each time. But like with Zardoz, 2001: A Space Oddysey or Seven Samurai, one can be bathed in the art, and yet say: 'Pretty pictures they paint, but what was it really all about?' because one misses all the subtle symbolism, doesn't see the bigger picture, doesn't see what it's supposed to mean. It's hard to focus when assailed with too much, and perhaps for that reason the songs don't stick as much as on Planeshift. Planeshift brought one atmosphere, with all it's various dimensions elaborated, and Jabberworks perhaps goes in too many directions.

There are some brilliant riffs on here, but they don't get total prominence in a song, even if it's used as a repeated theme in that song. And then there are some 'experimental' elements, such as a jazzy bassline used as an intro, the at points irregular drumming, and 'Der Jammerwoch'. This last song on the album is a song to the German translation of the 'Jabberwock' poem by Lewiss Carroll (famous for Alice in Wonderland). This poem about a mythical beast was experimental for it's fusing of different words into one to create non-sensical words that still had meaning because of the recognizability of their basic elements. How fitting Rakoth has dubbed this album Jabberworks then.

In short: although not singular in direction, very interesting music if you care to listen for it. Brilliant as hell in it's richness of sound, but suffering for it.