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The Black seal - 99%

gaia, August 29th, 2004

"Underrated" and "underappreciated" are two terms which are used an awful lot in the metal scene, but they have perhaps never been so aptly applied as to the Czech Republic's Root. Their sixth album, Black Seal continues down their singular path of musical evolution to arrive at an insular plateau of original style, superior execution, and artistic integrity. Yet, they still seem to be largely unknown. Whether this is due to poor distribution, lack of promotion, or their somewhat esoteric sound is unclear, but it's certainly not due to lack of talent or originality. The stellar production from their last masterpiece The Book reappears here, with a biting but clear guitar tone, warm roomy drums, and lots of enchanting post-production effects. The feel is somewhat similar, but with Root it's almost useless to refer to their past albums for descriptive fodder. They are an ever-changing entity, and their influences are absorbed into their own personal vacuum. There does seem to be more of a doom feel to Black Seal than their past efforts, especially in places like the opening of the title track (which could easily be a Solitude Aeturnus riff) and the creepy plodding crawl of "Liber Prohibitis." Root's real strength lies in their guitar work, their impeccable tone providing a wonderful springboard for some creative chords and stellar lead sections. Ashok is one of the best soloists in the metal scene, his feel and technique are peerless and in a just world he'd be mentioned alongside greats like Michael Denner, Andy LaRocque, Trey Azagthoth and Lars Johansson. One of the most jarring and effective uses of guitar on the album is in the strange tapping horrific melody over the opening staccato riffing of "Nativity." The two guitar parts simultaneously clash and work together, creating a nice sense of tension with the tenuous polyphony that is sadly absent in much of today's music. Vocal terror Big Boss is a multifaceted asset, his demonic howlings and operatic laments providing the most unique aspect of the band. His bizarro-vibrato croonings are more prominent than ever, but yet there is a wide variety of vocal styles and more atonal retchings than on The Book. Fernando of Moonspell is a guest vocalist on "Salamandra," and his subdued approach here is much more effective to these ears than the "ancient sexy vampire" pretensions of his own band's vocal work. Probably the most noticeable difference of Black Seal from their past works is the inclusion of occasional accompanying keyboard lines. Subtle and effective, the use of keyboards imparts a slightly more theatrical feel to the already emotionally charged material. Another in an incredibly long string of classic albums, Black Seal is a resounding success, and hopefully, the beginning of increased recognition and respect for its composers