Beats and yelling from: Acausal Intrusion, Renunciation, Marthe

Acausal Intrusion: Seeping Evocation
Out 30th September on I, Voidhanger Records

Acausal Intrusion throw a plethora of disorientation at the listener on this album, as if willing us to loosen our grip on the threads running through each piece only to eventually let go entirely. ‘Seeping Evocation’ is best viewed from a non-linear angle. Rather fittingly given the name of this outfit, the album is best navigated as an unfolding image of increasing complexity rather than a conveyor of sequential passages following a logical cause and effect pattern. One is reminded of ‘Ordo Ad Chao’ for an album that attempted something similar, albeit with Mayhem placing more emphasis on ambience than ontological complexity.

Although Acausal Intrusion bill themselves as technical death metal, this is true only in the literal sense that the music is technical and broadly of a death metal strand; albeit dripping with a richly dark atmosphere of the depressive metal milieu. ‘Seeping Evocation’ takes us a long way from archetypal tech-death however.

The guitar work flows in and out of dissonance with dazzling fluidity, hijacking recognisable key signatures only to drop them just as quickly, and ideally at the most uncomfortable of junctures. Tempo takes on an adversarial relationship to the tonal project, cutting the momentum or introducing flowing blast-beats at the point where the guitar is poised to follow precisely the opposite impetus. The result is akin to listening to several pieces of music at once. But rather than a cacophonous process of dissolve one would expect from such an endeavour, the competing threads reliably marry up into harmony and disharmony with a degree of predictability. It’s as if the music is being repeatedly dismembered and sown back together, with each new iteration of unity evincing incrementally greater fragmentation than the last.  

The album is cloaked in a foggy, murky atmosphere, again reminiscent of ‘Ordo Ad Chao’ or even Axis of Perdition. This allows moments of chaos and energy to be contained within a repressed obscurity, as if we are observing them from a distance or behind a pane of glass in a lab. In fact the laboratory setting is perhaps the most fitting way to describe the experience of ‘Seeping Evocation’, as various musical fragments are brought to bear on each other and the results noted down. The conscious motivation behind the compositions may be logical, but the results are unpredictable, as shards of clashing keys, tempos, ascents and descents, and textural juxtapositions rebound and impact off one another in entirely novel ways.

Atop it all an obscurantist and oddly oppressive mood overshadows the entire album with infectious gloom. But the enduring impact is not one of nihilism, as the guitar lines often reach for the light and offer surprisingly bright melodic lines made all the more eerie given their surroundings. The result is a conflicted, undulating broth of order and disorder, the constant reassembly of the social constructs behind musical impressions, a dissection of our highly socialised responses to different aspects of sound manipulation.

Renunciation: Autelmorte
Out 21st October, self-released

Symphonic metal is a subgenre well suited to whiplash inducing stylistic leaps. The fraught melodrama, the precision playing, the orchestral flourishes, the pin sharp production values, all prep the listener to accept leaps in mood, atmosphere, or emotional stakes far more than other genres would allow. Russia’s Renunciation prove to be adept manipulators of these qualities on their debut album ‘Autelmorte’.

Although we could broadly describe this album as symphonic, it is in reality a whistlestop tour of metal subgenres at the refined, regal, dare we say pompous climbs of the genre, incorporating elements of technical and melodic death metal, symphonic black metal, the jaunty pageantry of folk metal, and what our underground pretensions would regard as the more vulgar aspects of contemporary metal in the form of djent and metalcore. Any textural symphonics are kept to a minimum, leaving the marker to attach itself to the undeniably lavish guitar work on display here.

But Renunciation keep a tight rein on their stylistic calling cards, whipping this rich brew up into a polished and intense experience of cinematic, modern extreme metal. For all the genre traversing that takes place across this album, they manifest only at the practical level of the music itself, once removed from their contribution to the artistic and emotional worth of the music as an artefact of artistic value.

The latter of which is a realm of fraught intensity, high stakes, and rich emotive colourings. Renunciation throw a barrage of information at the listener, from tightly packed rhythmic patterns, an array of intricate lead guitar work, and theatrical vocalisations, all bound together with a highly disciplined approach to phrasal development borrowed from the melodic traditions of extreme metal. They are able to maintain a considerable intensity across the album through clever positioning of key and well placed interludes and breakdowns to allow the music to breathe for just a few measures.

Listening to studied musicians can sometimes be a laborious affair, as they are wont to craft music with a musician’s ear rather than that of an audience, critic, or even an artist. Renunciation manage to avoid this particular pitfall however. They are clearly masters of their craft, both in terms of the nitty gritty theory behind the many styles they draw upon, yet also in their ability to execute technically demanding pieces of music.

But this framework never sinks entirely into self-indulgence. The guitar leads work as commentary and drivers of musical narratives rather than needless finger exercises. The rhythmic acrobatics drive the momentum of the music forwards rather than distracting from the experience. And the genre hopping on display across ‘Autelmorte’ never becomes tiresome or pandering.

For all its polish, its glossy sheen, and razor sharp precision, this album still stamps a distinct artistic character onto the listener, one born of well thought out melodic philosophies and careful arrangement of the many moving parts at play as much as raw creative energy.

Marthe: Victimized
Out 29th April, self-released

Marthe’s intoxicating blend of Bathoryisms and loose psychedelia only intensifies on this single released earlier this year. ‘Victimized’ picks up exactly where the ‘Sisters of Darkness’ EP left off, marrying foot stomping heavy metal with Viking intensity, soaring guitar leads rich in bracing spirituality yet minimal in melodic content, and a stirring blend of distorted and clean vocals, matching Quorthon for sheer dramatic commitment and easily outdoing him for…well, being in tune frankly.

There is something eminently refreshing about how Marthe blends her influences from the primitive yet melodic end of early Nordic black metal, to classic heavy metal, and elements of a more blues orientated lineage. The presentation and execution are austere yet efficient, no moment is wasted, each second fraught with tension or release. It combines motivational anthemic qualities with elements of real bite and aggression, a simplicity of delivery that sees emotive and thematic depth supervene atop its modest foundations.

All this amounts to what critics would call sincerity or authenticity. Hard as these qualities are to pin down – finding their definitions more often through their antithesis – it is clear that Marthe is one of the few projects currently working through its germinal phase that can lay claim to these descriptors with little fanfare or supplementary justification needed besides the sheer joy taken from the music itself.

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