Release DetailsLABEL Alternative Tentacles Records
RELEASED ON 12/1/2004
Another Great Love Song
posted on 4/2005 By:
My friend posed a fascinating question the other day: just what do the words “American Black Metal” mean? While “Norwegian Black Metal” or “Nordic Black Metal” seems rather self-explanatory, “Finnish Cult Black Metal” suggests a sound propagated by Northern Heritage, “French Cult Black Metal” more often than not hints at the misanthropy of Les Legiones Noires and “Swedish Black Metal” implicates a speedy, melodic approach, “USBM” in this day and age is applied to anything from Grand Belial’s Key to Black Witchery to December Wolves. While American black metal’s genesis is easily recognizable on metal’s timeline, owing its existence for like-minded artists like Profanatica, VON, Demoncy and Havohej, American black metal has meandered on countless individual tangents since then, and the fact that there is no singular definitive “American” sound makes the term “USBM” very dubious indeed, particularly when using it to describe a band’s sound. Ludicra is a prime example of just how pointless the term is as a musical descriptor, a potent potpourri of doom, gothic, melodic death metal and black metal sensibilities that vehemently defies the band’s Californian origins.
Not that they are an anomaly in Oakland- Ludicra share a scene populated with distinctly Scandinavian sounding outfits, with Xasthur, Crebain and Leviathan being amongst the more en vogue acts plying their trade in the wild west. Yet, there are a few things that should intrigue even the most jaded black metal aficionados- this release has been issued on Jello Biafra’s astute underground institution of eclectica, Alternative Tentacles, and features in their ranks the GODLY talents of one John Cobbett (The Lord Weird, Slough Feg and Hammers Of Misfortune). There is a definite sense of melancholia that permeates this entire release, the band forging intricately constructed Dissection melodies with blasty , late Immortal Norsecore frigidity and more deliberate, moody Moonspell-ish passages, infusing everything with a sullen, depressive feel that injects great emotional depth to their often linear sound.
The solitary, meditative acoustic guitar that opens the album is a fitting precursor for the sounds to follow, ushering in a furious maelstrom of crashing cymbals, blasting rhythms, early Naglfar guitars and Laurie Sue Shanemann’s truly frightening vocals. While opener “The Only Curse, The Only Remedy” is haphazardly formulaic (frosty, blasty Scandinavian riffing segueing into a more elaborate mid-tempo passage, repeat), everything is executed with enough aplomb and consummate panache to maintain interest throughout. Commendably, Shanemman’s vocals are grippingly sincere and believably tortured, siphoning the anguish expressed in the lyrical booklet with buckets of ingénue. Followup “Let Thirst The Soil” is a far more interesting exploit, showcasing blighted, bemoaning riffage that recalls early My Dying Bride or Katatonia, as well as spectral, choral vocals by Shanemann in the hook that provide an intriguing contrast to her rabid screech.
It’s a trend that runs throughout the record- while everythinghas been executed and replicated before (by bands that play this frostbitten style more believably than one situated in the vulture-infested desert climes of California), the band’s laudable prowess as songwriters render the album a holistically enjoyable and engrossing affair. They have an innate sensitivity for songcraft, knowing exactly when to switch tempos or riffs, the musicians acutely keen to how many notes should be played, how a fill should be utilized to complement the song without disrupting its flow.
The use of dynamics is great here, the transitions between gently plucked acoustic melodies to riff-oriented, melodic passages to barbarous, blast-beat driven sections proving to be seamless throughout. As befitting a man with as much talent as John Cobbett, the songs are just so expertly crafted that you can’t help but nod in approval as the meandering, sobbing melodies of “Why Conquer?” engrave themselves into your consciousness. Several really cool moments surface throughout the record, one of the more notable being the latter day Darkthrone rock riff that emerges 01:48 into “In The Greenest Maze”, one that bizarrely shifts into a Bay Area thrash riff worthy of Exodus before resuming with the At The Heart Of Winter-ish speedfest. Of further interest are the lyrics on offer here, intensely personal works of prose that speak of emotional torment and despair, as opposed to the often misguided, juvenile Satanic diatribe of their peers.
As mentioned before, the musicianship on this record is top notch- not in the virtuoso sense, but in the sense that every note has a pragmatic purpose to the piece, every fill is tasteful and necessary, working within the parameters of the song. Each musician exerts himself/herself to contribute to the fluid flow of the record, never interrupting with anything inappropriate or awkward. The production is organic and just as honest as the lyrics, giving Shanemann enough of a platform in the mix to exorcize her demons without overriding the suppleness of the bass, the inventive (nuanced and musical without being obnoxious) percussion and ornately layered, Nodtveidt-esque guitars. If there is one complaint I can make about this record, it’s that it doesn’t exhibit the imagination of Cobbett’s other projects, both of which rank amongst my very favorite bands in recent times. Otherwise, this is a highly engaging and enthralling work, a conscientiously studied and professional product of highly accomplished musicians.
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