Release DetailsLABEL Temple Of Torturous
RELEASED ON 3/31/2011
GENRES Black,Drone Ambient,Atmospheric
posted on 5/2011 By:
Artists like Echtra are somewhat of a tough pill to swallow for most of the garden variety, denim-vested music buffs. This American one-man band, crafting obscure droning soundscapes in 23-minute sections exclusively, doesn’t exactly call upon the almighty riff for invoking adrenaline-fueled headbanging or relentless air-guitar showdowns. Heck, even if you were plugged into the great mysteries of casting enchanting harmonies with your Landola, outfits like Echtra offer little to go on about. More importantly, before even hearing a single note from any of these 23-minute excursions into the riffless and beatless void of murmur, your head is filled with questions that need answering. What is an “echtra”? What’s with the 23-minute framework? Why fucking bother, when you could just listen to your favorite tunes from your favorite band that borrows its name from a highly unsophisticated torture device and doesn’t fuck around with too much of thematic consistency with its colossal, falsetto-driven anthems about fighter planes and the Egyptian pantheon? By offering little to none of that sweet, instant gratification and too much of the puzzling mysteries, artists like Echtra don’t really stand a chance.
And that’s a damn shame, because Paragate, Echtra’s third offering, is pretty good for what it is: an echtra; a story that puts the emphasis on the destination rather than the actual voyage. On a more superficial level, the album doesn’t initially reveal much more than a standard cut-and-paste exhibition of droning ambience − reverting back and forth between different frequencies, octaves and notes – and half-assed lo-fi black metal, all divided into two equally drawn-out compositions. Nobody needs another dose of that, because no matter how mouth-wateringly enjoyable the perverted union of these two ingredients can be on occasion, a lifetime supply of this style can be assembled from a solid handful of releases. Fortunately there’s a certain saving grace on Paragate in the form of high-reaching folky acoustics.
Indeed, what ultimately makes Echtra stand in good stead and elevates Paragate to the upper echelon of this mode of expression is the easily distinguishable folk melodies and the reverberating finger-picking patterns that sway from gentle strumming to mellow arpeggios, invoking an earthy vibe rarely found in material of this ilk. Together with the hazy, distortion-heavy wall of sound, they form a resonating curtain, behind which lie the few appearances of non-droney electric guitars, drums and throaty vocals with their only mission to create an unnerving background for the battle of bleak, colorless buzz and the intoxicating afterglow of resounding strings.
Although it’s most likely the earthbound neo-folk histrionics that will (or will not) suck you into this recital, a closer inspection and repeated spins also slowly unveil glimpses of well-thought-out songcraft and grasp of arrangement. A fine example of this is the almost 15-minute shapeshifting drone passage – very much akin to the whole 2+ hours that cover Velvet Cacoon’s Atropine − that seamlessly integrates the album’s two numbers, “Paragate I” and “II”, serving as a resolve for the former and an outbreak for the latter. Overall, it’s the ability to effectively steer clear of the most common pitfalls and banalities of the genre and to dismiss the whole shitpile mentality, whereby it’s experimental to let a bar chord ring ad infinitum, that makes Echtra’s third recording a lot more than just another offhand attempt at fusing pointless amplifier abuse into bedroom black metal. It’s amazing what little snippets of melody and the rejection of pig-headed repetition can do.
In any case, Paragate is not perfect. A more bombastic production job would’ve made it sound huge and given it more character, although Echtra’s third recording is far from the most disease-infested excrement in the wasteland where thin guitars and punchless drums lay rotten. Admittedly, the album does also struggle with supporting the weight of its whole 46 minutes, and the supposed culmination of “Paragate II” – a burst into a frenetic-yet-atmospheric black metal section and the surprisingly stale and long-winded outro that follows – feels rather forced and anticlimactic after a steady plateau of reptilian creeping. However, the most notable shortcoming of Paragate is probably the fact that it kind of falls somewhere in between by lacking in many of the stylistic extremities that draw people to this variety of heavy music. It’s not nearly as cavernous as your typical drone act, nor is it as raw as a steak tartare, and quite frankly there's a lot of more challenging stuff out there for those who crave it.
Still, only a fool would judge Paragate by other than its meditative qualities, for it is thoroughly useless to try and break down this sort of music into its constituent parts and see if they fit into an all-powerful set of molds. It is what is: an echtra, concentrating where you are instead of how you got there. Sure, most of us will probably continue to spend the little free time we have watching a guy in orange spandex, waving the Union Jack on top of a prop pyramid while a ten-foot robot zombie reels on stage, but there is also a time and place for albums like Paragate.
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