Release DetailsLABEL Agonia Records
RELEASED ON 2/5/2013
Acrimonious sounds like it wants to make black metal for arena tours...
Greece is not a great place to be right now. Unemployment is above 25%, and waves of austerity programs have produced corresponding waves of human misery. Given that context, I’m not sure whether a sprawling, messy, big-budget-sounding album like this, the second from Athens’s Acrimonious, is heroic or hubristic. Regardless of its relationship to the Eurozone crisis, Sunyata is a fascinating album. I don’t think it works particularly well as an album, but moment to moment, riff to riff to unexpected instrumental freakout, I’m rarely bored.
“Nexus Aosoth” is perhaps the most beautiful intro track you’ll hear on a black metal album this year, with dark, aching string swells - the kind of noises that make you want to quit your job, find a forest, dig a hole, and become part of a mossy root-system. Following this blanketing introduction, however, Acrimonious is all go, all the time. The band’s black metal is an undeniably modern type that benefits from a phenomenal production - thick, spotlighted bass and sturdy, swarming guitars - but also suffers from sounding more than a little bit like Watain.
Much like Watain of late, Acrimonious sounds like it wants to make black metal for arena tours, with lots of swaggering sections of double-bass thruppetythruppetythruppetythruppety perfect for fist-pumping along to the accents. Many (okay, most) of these songs feel a minute or two too long, but because the band’s instrumental accents fracture the tonal palette as much as they do, this mostly has the effect of simply widening the canvas; not every corner will catch the eye and tell the right story, but the story speaks nonetheless.
Still, too often the listener is forced into weighing the album on a careful accounting ledger - a wicked riff ticks it into the black here, but then a turgid midsection drags it back into the red there. “Lykaria Hecate” boasts some great, grisly fret gymnastics around 2:40 or so, but then the song fades out abruptly after a midsection, before then faking into churchy organ and running water before returning to a downcast coda. Likewise, the squiggly leadwork and gang shouts halfway through “Glory Crowned Son of the Thousand-Petalled Lotus” (what?) are enlivening, but the song otherwise lopes along too casually for its own good. “The Hollow Wedjat” (what?) is slightly more successful, allowing for plenty of exultant “standing atop a snow-crested mountain peak and shouting into the valleys and foothills” bellowing, particularly during its triumphant coda.
The bigger problem with the songwriting, and thus with one’s ability to make sense of the album as an enjoyable whole, is that the band often gets a little too carried away with piling interlocking melodies on top of one another, as on “The Sloughted Scales of Separation” (what?), where dual guitar licks are eventually joined by another overdubbed bit of guitar in counterpoint, and a pulsing, quarter-note stabbing walking bass. It’s too much, but you can tell the band’s really into it, heads down and lips pursed in concentration. The solo section that closes out the song nails a better balance, because it sounds like they’re trying to focus on that thin, high arpeggio lead line rather than everything at once.
A greater focus on the rare instances where the music actually feels aggressive would also help. Sure, Sunyata is always heavy and distempered, as demand the dictates of modern black metal’s idiom, but it doesn’t really sound like Acrimonious is going for the throat all that often. That’s a stylistic choice the band is welcome to make, but when a quick drop-out breakdown leads to a rather punishingly-tempo’d new section about halfway through “Vitalising the Red-Purple in Asher-Zemurium” (what?), phew!, it’s a, well, (re)vitalizing thing.
Most troublingly, once it’s over, nothing much sticks. “Black Kundalini” just, kind of, quits. I hope, for the sake of the current heirs of the great Hellenic empire of old, that the band is not the population, and the album is not the country. So much energy; too little reward. We have to believe things can be better.