Beats and yelling from: Ayyur, Cisza, Tir

Ayyur: Prevail
Out 7th April on Xenoglossy/Hidden Room Recordings/Dead Red Queen Records/Armee de la Mort

Tunisian atmospheric black metallers finally graduate into full length territory with the release of ‘Prevail’. This sees their vision of sparse, understated atmospheric music expand into a stilted, doom laden affair of low key menace punctuated by monstrosity and chaos. The picture is not a tranquil one. Cohesion is not built until track three ‘The High Throne’. The opening suite of this album is an unsettling conveyor belt of frustrated momentum, patient yet strained atmospheric builds, and guttural vocal crooning. ‘The High Throne’ picks up the tempo with a mid-paced blast of dissonant black metal, but retains the same strained background atmosphere of drab, grey glumness.

‘Prevail’ is essentially a dark ambient album that uses black metal as an aesthetic vehicle to extend its emotive reach more than it is a metal album. The entire picture is framed by swelling waves of sonic volume that convey a lurking sense of emptiness, wilderness. This is a barren backdrop onto which Ayyur paint an awkward, stilted array of dissonance, droning chords, and loose black metal riffs. The drums contain the promise of solidity and motion, but always find themselves dropping the tempo just as sustained motion becomes the norm. Leaving the guitars to desperately forage for coherence where none can be found.

Each track is framed by dark ambience, sometimes minimalist as in the first half of the album, sometimes richly orchestrated as in the interlude ‘Glorifying Ascendancy’. Indeed, this latter piece provides such a rich potential of musicality, but one that is supressed, presented at a distance once removed from the listener, the promise of such warm symphonic arrangements is far away and out of reach. The only thing apparent in the listener’s immediate surroundings is more discomforting, jarring blackened doom of ambiguous moral coding.

Despite obvious ontological differences, Beherit can be heard as a liminal reference point on ‘Prevail’. The melding of surrealist dark ambient and electronica with abstract and explicitly primitivist black metal is a continuous artistic and conceptual technique deployed by Ayyur. Despite the sophisticated textural arrangements, and the absorbingly cinematic scope of these compositions, an earthy, primal undercurrent motivates these tracks, lending them an animalistic menace, unsettling the listener despite the soothing flows of atmosphere.

‘Prevail’ is an album many years in the waiting for Ayyur. And it is to their credit that they did not lurch out of the starting gate with an overly airbrushed and manicured version of their by now well defined style. Instead, they have retained their overwhelming drab calling cards whilst expanding the vision, allowing it to traverse untroubled by physical or temporal limitation.

Cisza: She Yearns for Other Worlds
Out 10th March, self-released

Poland’s Cisza are another artist who have been quietly germinating in the background for a number of years in anticipation of an evolution into the full length sphere. Their brand of black metal, melodic post hardcore, and elements of progressive metal finds structural and expressive maturity on ‘She Yearns for Other Worlds’. It’s an eminently contemporary work, slotting neatly into the populist melding of post hardcore trappings and black metal, with elements of sludge and even some death metal riffs in places. But Cisza also stand outside of the current moment, floating in the aether, a clearly defined character and vision of their own shining through where others dabbling in similar territory fail to express a voice.

Despite the polished production, ‘She Yearns for Other Worlds’ is an album with roots in the DIY history of these genres. The presentation is straightforward, direct, no flashes of additional orchestration or distractingly engineered guitar tones. The playing is precise, the riffs lurch from choppy tech death to flowing black metal melodicism, augmented by drums at once austere yet precise, framing either staccato power chord punches or galloping blast-beats as required. Vocals sit somewhere between an old school thrash metal bark and guttural hardcore punk leanings, adding an identifiable human core to the music without toppling it with sentimentality.

These are complex pieces with hidden pockets of simplicity deployed as guiding transitional passages, aiding the listener with their intuitive harmonic character, bridging moments of dissonance or atonality with an almost lyrical melodicism. The latter of which shines through on the guitar solos which work as a delivery mechanism for high drama above the earthy solidity of the rhythm section. A Gorguts strand of DNA can be heard – such as on the track ‘Never Stroll Behind the Pines’ – as much as any post 2000 melodic black metal precursor. Adding layers of rhythmic and tonal disorientation to supplement the otherwise rather traditional approach to narrative construction.

Despite the energy, precision, and aggression of Cisza playing at full throttle, ‘She Yearns for Other Worlds’ is replete with austere interludes and pauses for reflection. These are defined by gentle clean guitar arpeggios and loosely flowing drum patterns that break up the rampant abrasion of the metallic passages. The title track being a prime example of this, where clean vocals are also deployed to extend the emotional breadth of the music and open it to new dimensions of timbral expression.

But despite the explicit sentimentality behind this work, the impression is never self-indulgent, never laboured. This is a dignified work that deals with intensity of feeling without allowing it to run roughshod over artistic integrity. Cisza are master riff craftsman, and this fact shines through in spades across this work. The perfect graduation into the full length dimension from the germinal we found on the ‘If it is True What the Prophets Write’ EP.

Tir: Awaiting the Dawn
Out 7th April on Brilliant Emperor Records/Orko Productions

Despite the superficial tranquillity presented by ‘Awaiting the Dawn’, this calming stasis conceals a complex brew of competing antecedents battling for the limelight across this album. We see the obvious lineage of metal adjacent neofolk in Ulver, Tenhi, and Empyrium. But Tir borrow most liberally from the latter of these, combining the fragile minimalism of acoustic guitar arpeggios with richly emotive vocal lines that bleed into choral music at times. Flutes, strings, and generic Springwatch samples litter the scenery framing the central meditative refrains.

But sitting behind these contemporary influences are a plethora of older and subtler reference points, all of which add layers of complexity and engaging nuance floating in the abstract, over and above the gentle, incremental flows of sonic information across this album. We have the unabashed early Romantic tragedian spirit, expressed more recently via the likes of 90s darkwave in Die Verbannten Kinder Evas and Dargaard. This is a style that owes as much to Goethe’s ‘Sorrows of Young Werther’ as it does to post punk and goth. We have the aforementioned choral aspect, giving ‘Awaiting the Dawn’ a background flavour of church music, despite the explicitly paganistic orientation.

And perhaps binding all these things together is Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’, a narrative song cycle whose influence can be heard across all neofolk that bends in the direction of Tir. Gentle, intimate lyricism of modest melodic content, used as a platform to express melancholia, fragility, vulnerability, but delivered in such a drab, engaging, dignified way that no one could level accusations of self-indulgence at these works.

Seen from this angle, ‘Awaiting the Dawn’ is ahead of the curve as far as comparable neofolk is concerned. They stay true to the minimalist core of this music. Leaving the centre of the mix almost completely empty. But this is no work of bare bones acoustic guitar vignettes with little in the way of conceptual architecture. The ancillary instrumentation is deployed in such a way as to elevate the central threads of these elegantly simple narratives, rather than posing as a distraction. The vocals, though adept, are used sparingly, thus accentuating their impact all the more. And any orchestration or high drama serves to underpin the music with a profoundly emotive foundation without swamping the delicate beauty of each central refrain.

Shepherding such a nebulous concoction into a work that is not only coherent but bearing a clear and distinct philosophical character is something to be celebrated. As is the retention of the empty melancholia that binds these many influences together with an aesthetic ethos that stands apart from other contemporary expressions of explicitly emotive music. The grief is dignified, multifaceted, and leaves ample room for unabashed joy.

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