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Strange Soundscapes. - 77%

hells_unicorn, November 28th, 2008

With a world as big as the one we have, there is nearly an infinite amount of possibilities if you’re looking to do some sort of hybrid style of music utilizing sounds from the various cultures on this planet. Senmuth has taken this to its logical conclusion on their offering “Izoteri-Ka” by merging a lot of mystical sounding Eastern musical ideas with their own quirky brand of gothic/ambient/industrial metal. To call this avant-garde would be an understatement, as I doubt that anyone who doesn’t at least have a mild familiarity with World Music would be able to wrap their ears on exactly what’s going on here.

The only thing that really keeps all of these sounds anchored in place is the constancy of the drum beats, which mostly seem to concentrate on repetitive rock drones that rely more on slight variance and simplistic fills to mark changes in sections than anything else. The quality of the drum sound is really high, as it has to be in order to punch its way through all of the various ambient themes bouncing off of each other on all sides. On certain songs there are vocal lines that are sung in Russian that is actually fairly melodic and consonant, but again you have to account for all of the sonic chaos going on around it before you mistakenly assume that this begins to flirt with listener accessibility.

In truth, the long that this plays, the more sense it starts to make. It doesn’t really have any dissonant characteristics like many forms of extreme death or doom metal might, but it is so heavy on differing ideas and sounds, both synthetic and natural, that it deceives the ears into hearing dissonance where there isn’t really any. Thematic material can often come in the form of fairly simple melodies rolled on top of each other, and at others they bombard the ears in large flurries of fast and complex streams of notes. A good example lay in the multiple layering of guitar ideas going on during “pokrovitelnica fivanskogo ekropolya” (song 6 for those who like me can’t read Russian). The underlying piano theme is actually a fairly simple and pleasant, almost like a quotation from a Chopin prelude, but throw in a couple of clean and distorted electric guitar lines doing odd combinations of notes and fret noise and a really dense layering of keyboards and you have something that can only be described as mystical.

There are two extremes on here that can give one a good idea of what to expect out of hearing this, each one of them manifesting themselves in complete songs. The most contorted and outlandish of the songs on here is “Amarna S Exitium”, which in addition to being loaded with a plethora of differing woodwind sounds, has its anchor beat obscured by an ensemble of percussion instruments. It is still possible to follow the underlying structure of the song, but you really have to dig under a lot of layers of exotic sounds to get to it, often only to find the timbre of the entire arrangement changing to set your ears back into a state of utter confusion. “Ot Pustoty” has only two real layers to it, a piano that fades in and out of the background playing a very beautiful stream of notes, and a heavily present layer of what sounds like wind. The only tricks that this song really plays on the ears is that the piano, being the principle source of melodic material, fades so far into the background at times that you can barely make it out.

This is a style of music that is very challenging, both to understand and even more so to appreciate. Senmuth seems more of a musician dressed for experimentation in a top secret laboratory than he does an artist using sounds as colors, but once you are able to strip away the veneer of technological dominance, what is behind it is very organic. The ultimate problem is that really obscure styles like these invoke very subjective interpretations, so trying to recommend this to anyone is a bit difficult. The best I can think of is if you like really atmospheric gothic metal and you’re not terribly attached to the radio-oriented aspects of the genre, this will appeal to you. Aside from that and the occasional avant-garde fan that lives for music that challenges his sense of musical definitions, all bets are off.

Originally submitted to ( on November 28, 2008.

Qhua-hway-zei - 75%

caspian, November 27th, 2008

Senmuth are a fairly strange band if this album is any indication, the whole thing sounds like Ulver’s Blood Inside but with some distorted guitars. And not as good. But anyway it’s a weird but pretty sweet album, with some vague industrial overtones fighting with a heap of piano and whatever else these guys deem is worthy.

One thing that’s immediately obvious is that Senmuth are pretty good with their electronics. The drums do sound artificial but are nonetheless well programmed, quite dynamic and giving a fairly life like performance. Like someone on a v-drum kit, I guess. There’s a heap of synths floating around, some holding the tunes together but a lot of them just floating around for a few seconds before disappearing again. There’s a heap of elements coming and going; guitars plugging at some sort of industrial riffs come and go, almost at random while a heap of synths, other guitar layers and effects engage in a bloody melee. I don’t know if it’s arranged with some amazing precision or if it is just genuinely chaotic; regardless it’s kinda cool but for the most part confusing. The thing that’s cool about this album is that even when there’s a million layers going off all at once, what would normally be a swirling mess can end up being surprisingly melodic; not to say that this will album will get played on the radio any time soon though. “Motivy Proshyhl” or whatever it’s called is a good enough example of this; there’s an insane amount of layers going off but the melody is still crystal clear, and extremely simple. The seriously acid-fried synth pop/industrial/thing that is “Pozmat Ezrimoe Imya” is another one; heaps of layers, vocals that are pretty much anti-melodic, a brief ¾ section but overall it’s still a pretty killer song.

Fitting well inside the completely bizarre soundscapes are the vocals, you could almost imagine them being in some sort of “edgy” alt-rock/industrial thing if they weren’t also really strange. They’re in Russian which automatically makes them weird, and the singer doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with sounding good, moreso getting his point across as quickly and weirdly as possible. I dunno, it’s hard to call them anything other then “weird”, but that’s pretty much what they are.

I think enjoyment of this album depends on how big your tolerance for weirdness is. I can see avant-garde metal fans creaming their pants over this, whereas a lot of people will likely hate this with a passion. “Ya Pokidau Geliopo” is utterly chaotic and makes Blood Inside sound like Sunn O))) in comparison; two guitar solos, arpeggiated strings going everywhere, synths crammed inside every orifice, loud guitars, and all before it breaks down for a little bit with a brief bit of solo piano. It’s the strangest song on here but that’s not to say there’s much here that’s sensible, the airy (and rather nice) noisy-piano intro aside.

I guess I still enjoyed this album a fair bit, or maybe even a lot. At the very least these guys deserve credit for the excellent production job they did in this, there’s so many layers going everywhere that mixing it must’ve been a nightmare. The enjoyment may just lie in me going “wow, this is odd” but regardless I do enjoy this, and despite the synthesised chaos the whole thing is rather emotional and personal, like we’re on a journey into the minds of two insane Russians. I’d recommend it, especially with some sort of drugs.