Release DetailsLABEL Bad Moon Music
RELEASED ON 8/30/2010
A Mass of Despair
posted on 11/2010 By:
You can probably surmise from the cute album title that when you crack this thing open it’s going to greet you with a warm hug, a cup of hot chocolate and a smile, right? And the cover is just ridiculously bright and warm, like John Baizley penning a Stratovarious cover. It begs the question, why is this a Fall release? Clearly these guys should have released a split single in June with Andrew W.K., no?
Okay. The fact is this LP is as depressing as the title suggests, and it makes for a fitting Fall / Winter listen. With the dark, ominous and beautifully illustrated cover and the ambient opening complete with the sound of wind, rain and a ringing bell, it would be hard to arrive at any other immediate conclusion. What follows is an intriguing mix of death/doom and black metal. Given that there are only a handful of bands of note delving into that particular corner of extreme metal, at least with much success, I was anxious to wrap my head around A Mass of Despair.
Cebren-Khal’s first official release quickly proved to be quite the affair, and it wasn’t just the juggling of sub-genres or the lengthier opening track. One doesn’t always know what to expect when jumping into a lesser-profile album by a relatively green band, but it’s easy to walk in with low expectations. However, these are some pretty tightly orchestrated songs, demonstrative of a professionalism most bands aren’t able to achieve on a debut. Playing with such a rich palette would have been a total and utter mess in less capable hands.
One of the stronger elements keeping A Mass of Despair afloat is its diversity. It’s a little much to take on the first time around, but with repeated listens it starts to sink in. And it helps that the album is on the shorter side at about 37 minutes. I remember watching an interview not too long ago with Tom Warrior of Triptykon, and he spoke of how 1349 were able to write songs that sounded like entire albums. He admired that sense of scope. I think the same could be said of Cebren-Khal’s songwriting. A Mass of Despair adopts that same aesthetic. It requires a different approach than we are accustomed to as listeners, and it’s a refreshing challenge.
However, some of these albums within an album work well while others come up a little short. “The Lunar Tragedy Act 2” is an example of the former. One gets the impression after a while that these men and woman are most comfortable blending the blackened and death/doom elements of their sound only after establishing a more gothic tone first. They’re particularly adept at building tension that way, whether it’s a creepy narrative spoken over the music, increasingly heavier riffs or simply an ominous keyboard passage. A Mass of Despair would certainly be a lesser album without those heavier bits, but the clear driving force is the band’s unapologetic embrace of epic goth metal. Where that embrace is more obvious is where Cebren-Khal seems to find its balance.
The band doesn’t always sit on perfect ground, though. There were places where they lost me completely. One of those places was “The Lunar Tragedy Act 1.” Normally I like me some chaos, but the effect here was jarring. Grating, even. An almost symphonic black metal opening was a poor choice given how beautifully the previous track ends, and it seems all the more unnecessary when the band switches pace and slips into thrash mode with a nasty little riff. It’s a relatively rare and atypical moment where Cebren-Khal seems to crumble under its own ambition. Thankfully, it’s a minor slip on an otherwise meticulously arranged album.
If there’s a defining record among the bunch it’s probably album-closer “Where All Faith is Lost.” It also happens to be the longest of the five at just over 10 minutes, all of which are equally hefty and purposeful. When we think of certain bands, at least ones worth thinking about, we hear a distinctive sound. This is where Cebren-Khal firmly establishes that identity. The vibe is effectively chilling as they stretch and pull the supposed limitations of goth metal until the balloon bursts under the crushing pressure of an air being slowly choked by the stench of death. When the band finally kicks into death/doom mode the tension is almost overwhelming. The sense of timing is what makes the song work so well. I can’t think of too many bands that could so deftly pull the listener in like that without losing grip after the seventh-minute mark.
While I don’t make a habit of listening to this brand of metal, I now know I have a sympathetic friend to look to when I am feeling depressed. At its best, A Mass of Despair manages to find a nice balance between gothic or dark metal and a meatier, riff-based sound. At its worst, it seems a little too ambitious. That’s not a bad worst trait to possess.
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