I like the beats and I like the yelling: Inner Missing, Unru, Illumination

Inner Missing: Dead Language
Out 25th February on Inverse Records

Quoted from Inner Missing’s Facebook page on the day of release:

“Dead Language is here. Today is the worst time possible to release an album, but the date was planned long ago and we simply cannot change it, that’s the way the world goes on now. Anyway, as usual, you can download it for free from our official bandcamp page – we’re sure, at the moment there are far better ways to spend your money than buying music – and by that I mean supporting those who are fighting for their life and liberty right now.”

For those of us in the UK, there are plenty of resources online to do this, but more info to start with can be found here, here, and here.

‘Dead Language’ is the ninth studio album from gothic doom duo Inner Missing, another polished and refreshingly pure interpretation of their gothic metal remit. No overblown theatrics, no aggressively orchestral synths, no excessively flowery melodies that strain our suspension of disbelief. No, this is a simple and satisfyingly glum wander through understated lamentations brought to life via rich lead guitar melodies, subtly layered strings, and a fitting contrast between deadpan and hauntingly high-end vocalisations.

Tonally, we are in the territory of the tragic poet. This is a modern reaffirmation of romanticism delivered with a sincerity that would usually be difficult for irony stuffed modern ears to take seriously. But Inner Missing are so utterly committed to their craft, and furnish it with such a rich presentation that one cannot help but admire the undertaking. The tone is maintained for the entire course of the album with the exception of some forays into bouncy pop melodies rendered in a minor key, which I suppose in context all but slip under the usual good taste firewalls.

The production is incredibly crisp, granting the listener full visibility of a plethora of different textures and instruments, the qualities of which are displayed to the full whether it’s a distorted guitar tone working through dissonant chords or twinkling piano ornamentation. This is in direct contrast to the taught bludgeons of more extreme metal styles that seek to contain the competing enthusiasms of different instruments under one roof. Here all is open and clear, with bass, keyboards, clean guitars, and gentle vocals all given full voice in this glowing panorama.

Guitars retain their metallic edge, settling on an up-tempo (although certainly not upbeat) reimaging of My Dying Bride style funereal melodicism. But through this format they work in intricate clean arpeggios and richly rendered basslines, supplemented by gentle keyboard lines that either flesh out the texture or else provide additional grace notes to the central refrains.

One reading of this style could be as a metallic take on darkwave acts such as Dargaard or Die Verbannten Kinder Evas. The poetic structure is the same. The melodies are almost lyrical, working in call and response to the clean vocals. The pieces take on an almost soundtrack quality. They could easily serve as the backdrop to tragedian epics filled with pale faces looking out of church windows and wandering through snowy forests with looks of mild concern. In the wrong hands it would be all a little hard to swallow, but aside from only the most minor of poppy missteps on tracks like ‘Long Odds’, Inner Missing keep the tone pleasingly gloomy and supressed, pulling off their chosen art with grace and class.

Unru: Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten
Out 4th March on Babylon Doom Cult Records

Cut some of the fat away from this lengthy album and you may find a half decent slab of post metal beneath it all. Unru’s latest LP is a considerable undertaking by any measure, but one that is worth pursuing. There is plenty of character and imagination worked into these compositional battleships, some well thought out melodies to flesh out what at times are frankly dazzling arrangements. But despite all this, ‘Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten’ is still saddled by some infuriating post metal handicaps. These can include extended cyclical passages that hang on the same group of chords without taking the music anywhere or overly sentimental crescendos that come over as contrived instead emotionally moving as I’m sure they were intended to be. Such elements do not ruin the finished work by any means, but they do extend its runtime beyond the music’s ability to hold one’s interest.

These are minor splotches on what is otherwise a considerably impressive canvas however. In many ways Unru are the archetypal postmodern metal band. Collecting fragments from black metal, sludge, hardcore, doom, and ambient and deliberately contextualising them as forgotten fragments of a historical narrative we have now overcome, stripping out what meaning they once had and resituated them into as yet verbally undeterminable forms.

The backbone of these tracks could roughly be described as a version of earlier The Ruins of Beverast if the doom elements were more in line with sludge and post hardcore as opposed to death doom. The black metal passages do wander into meaningless dissonance at times, only to be pulled back into strict melodic confines defined by an almost insatiable appetite for euphoria and catharsis. Smashing such a stark juxtaposition together requires some talent to pull off, but Unru are masters of their craft as far as production, arrangement, and timbre selection is concerned.

The guitar tone is fitting of modern sludge metal, but kept on the thin side to allow full articulation of the tremolo riffing. Keyboards offer massive amounts of texture to bolster this impact, sometimes working in dichotomy to the melodic dictates of the guitars, sometimes in perfect unison. Equally the selection of standard extreme metal growling alongside pained clean vocalisations works to establish the emotional dualities that pull apart and piece together this music as the compositions unfold. All the while drums are perhaps the most domestic aspect of ‘Die Wiederkehr des Verdrängten’, offering a performance both technically competent yet surprisingly modest as far as drum sound is concerned. On closer examination this certainly works in Unru’s favour, providing the right amount of energy and punch without distracting from the precarious cocktail of musical touchstones they sit beneath.

Such a fragile blend would have utterly failed in other hands. But for Unru they never lose site of the prize, freely working in all manner of fragments from extreme music’s past into an uncanny and contextless vehicle of postmodern catharsis. It falls down occasionally by overworking the post metal elements to the point of straying into the tedium all too familiar to the genre, tugging just a little too hard on those heartstrings in a manner that strains credulity. But all other things being equal this will go down as an album with no shortage of talking points regardless, and for that we cannot help but praise the audacity required to pull it off.

Illumination: Worship Death More than Life
Out 4th March on Personal Records

Atmosphere can be a cruel ally at times. It is a word that receives nowhere near the requisite level of examination given how often it is so lightly thrown around as a descriptor. In the context of music chat it literally just describes the general tone or mood of a piece. In this light all music could be said to be atmospheric on some level, lack of atmosphere is still an atmosphere after all. But in metal we normally mean a particularly enveloping vibe, usually driven by reverb, delay, the magic of modern keyboards and MIDI banks or the lo-fi credo. Artists can spend so much effort seeking out perfection within these specific parameters that they run the risk of forgetting to write music.

Enter Brazil’s Illumination and their debut EP ‘Worship Death More than Life’. I have given the above preamble because the compelling appeal of this EP is remarkably hard to pin down. Although a lot of attention has been paid to creating this supressed, submerged, obscurantist tone, the overall atmosphere is not all that unique. So, one turns to the music itself for clues. Here one can find a strain of mournful, melancholic, melodic black metal somewhere between the riff driven cacophonies of Dawn or Vinterland and the glum ambience of early 2000s USBM, maybe with some juiced up funeral doom elements in terms of cadence and delivery if not tempo. Again, not all that unique a concoction, but serviceable nonetheless.

No, the reason this works so well is due to two distinct but related features of the music coming together in perfect synchronicity, which brings to life an EP of mesmerising beauty and intrigue. Illumination have woven together a glove of atmosphere perfectly tailored for the substantial hand of their music to wear. Okay, heavy handed metaphors aside (and terrible puns), one can feel the relentless reverb, the shrill but understated guitar tone, the chasmic guttural vocals, the jangling clean guitars, and modest keyboards all coalescing in order to breathe life into these musical rudiments.

Equally, one can feel the mournful fragility of these riffs, the catharsis of every delayed cadence, the clash of mid-paced procession vs. the wash of blast-beats and tremolo picking, and basic repeated refrains dragged as centrepieces through these elegantly simple narratives all aided by the distant, almost dreamlike atmosphere that has been crafted in the mixing and mastering stage of ‘Worship Death More than Life’.

Bearing elements of cold black metal, melodic death metal, and the aesthetics and ethos of funeral doom, Illumination have stumbled on a surprisingly obvious and winning formula with their debut EP. One that sees many familiar faces emerge yet retains a colour and life of its own that is surprisingly hard to turn away from. But sometimes there’s no profound revelation or knowing chunk of wisdom to impart (known today as a “take”) that explains what makes an EP like ‘Worship Death More than Life’ tick, it is simply the marriage of quality riffing, creative compositions, and thoughtful aesthetic choices that marry up perfectly with the overall tone Illumination where trying to strike.

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