posted on 5/2009 By:
If there is one thing that can really kill a potentially strong album, it’s a failure for the band in question to establish a solid identity through their music. To me, this is one of the most important tasks in making a release an “album” as opposed to a collection of songs. Regardless of whether or not the sound is original, there has to be some kind of concrete theme holding the music together and driving it forward. And this is the main problem I have with the stupidly named black metal outfit IXXI (Roman numerals for “9-11”…seriously?). There are a number of things about Elect Darkness that I really like, but there’s no tangible structure or intent tying it all together.
Basically, when I spin this, I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to be listening for. IXXI run back and forth between various iterations of the black metal style without delivering any of it with true conviction, while occasionally injecting creative elements of their own volition with similarly unimpressive results. At times attempting to be epic, at others stripped down, but mostly straddling an unsatisfying middle-ground between the two, Elect Darkness is simply not engaging due to the emphasis these guys place on writing dynamic songs instead of songs that actually stick.
Vocalist Totalscorn is the primary weight dragging down the ship in this regard. The man’s multifaceted vocal style certainly commands attention, but his prominence in the compositions at hand only serves to increase their disjointed feel. While I’m sure this guy would love to believe that he’s pursuing a style similar to Atilla Cishar’s unscripted flow, the assortment of growls and gurgles he elicits are jarring, and much like the rest of this album, can never make up their mind of where exactly they want to go. When the guy holds out a garbled scream for over twenty seconds for no apparent reason at the beginning of the first track, you know you have problems.
Frustratingly, many of the riffs in this album are actually quite good, but again, the lack of direction! It just taints every aspect of this release. For each killer moment on Elect Darkness there’s another that’s dry, unfocused, and boring. The melodramatic acoustic intro to opener "Underworld" would sound more at home on a Type O Negative release, and even when a song like “Enthusiasm” ushers in a promising tremolo melody, its often quickly buried by unconvincing Celtic Frost influenced half-thrash passages and slow atmospheric sections that always seem to kill the energy level. I’m not against black metal bands writing dynamic songs, but the compositions on Elect Darkness always seem to sell themselves short. Its like that fat guy taking forever in front of you at the salad bar; so many great selections available, and yet the bastard can’t decide what he wants to put on his plate.
I respect that IXXI are attempting to take black metal in a varied, modern direction while still holding onto elements of the genre’s roots, but despite their efforts I can only call Elect Darkness a half-success. I’ll concede that most of the songs sound pretty good individually, but they also lose their distinctiveness when heard in the context of the whole album, and the lack of taste in the vocal work just over-complicates things further. Despite its faults, Elect Darkness is still enjoyable in several respects; all the songs contain at least a few moments of quality riffing and the production and musicianship are well both above par. I believe that IXXI do have the capabilities to put out a great album during their career, but this ain’t it. Maybe next time.
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