Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Echtra- "Sky Burial" CD & Total Negation- "Zur späten Stunde | Zeiträume" CD (Temple of Torturous)

By this point, many of my readers may have noticed that I love finding new things. They may not be things that are new to others, but I enjoy a new experience here and there. When Swedish label Temple of Torturous emailed me two separate new releases of theirs, from two groups I'd never even heard of before, I was quite intrigued. While some may view unknown or unfamiliar bands and sounds as an issue, I took this as an invitation to find something new and exciting. I'm happy to state that I was quite right, as both of these unique albums have impressed me thoroughly in their own ways.

Echtra is the guitarist/vocalist of black metal heavyweights Fauna, among a handful of other groups with which I'm not yet familiar. His work here seems slightly more meditative and personal, with this album, "Sky Burial,"  focusing on the need of each individual to make peace with his or her own mortality. The practice of sky burial is a Tibetan tradition wherein the recently deceased is left in a specific location that has been designated for the decomposition and disposal of human remains. The body is left to the elements, where it is often consumed by predatory birds. As the soul has left the body, there is no need to honor its former home according to this tradition. In a similar fashion, Echtra creates a fluid representation of chaos and peace with this album. There is a focused sort of deconstruction that occurs here, with sparse vocals occasionally dotting a deserted landscape of textured guitars and dense keys. As each of the two tracks are simply halves of a greater single performance, they blend together into one massive, cathartic piece of music. I find myself listening to this album as I fall asleep at night, yet when I listen during the day, I find it invigorating. Something about this is familiar and comforting, much like the understanding of death itself, yet it is never dull or tiresome. The Temple of Torturous release of this album includes a DVD of the only live performance of "Sky Burial," which dates back to 2008. While I haven't yet seen the live performance, I can say that it will be worth watching if it captures even a fraction of the beauty and intensity presented on this album.

Switching things over to Total Negation, we're presented with two EPs packaged as one full-length album. While many bands release separate albums that are essentially the same, these two EPs are easily distinguished from one another, so I'll review them separately. The first four tracks belong to the "Zur späten Stunde" EP, which explores the intense moments the mind often experiences right before body and mind drift into sleep. Opening track "Einkehr" sets the stage appropriately with clean yet dissonant leads creating psychedelic atmospheres over fuzzy and dense chords and howled vocals. The darkness here isn't suffocating, but there is an eerie uncertainty that forces the music onward, deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole of one's own mind. The overall feeling here is dark and uncomfortable, but with a faint glow around the edges. Moving on to "Zeiträume," a sequel of sorts, Total Negation explores the textures and sensations of dreams themselves. For first listens, I try not to read the press information lest I be swayed. Despite this, I instantly picked up on some instruments that are unconventional for black metal. Sure enough, both melodica and vibraphone are featured prominently here, showcasing both creativity and skill with composition. This doesn't sound or feel like a half-hearted attempt to "transcend" black metal, nor does this feel like an amateur musician playing with an idea. "Zeiträume" is a creative and engaging testament to the potential within sole member Wiedergaenger's grasp. Crunchy guitars and foreign instruments play in unison at times, adding depth to the heaviness of the more metal moments, while at other times the two sets of instruments seem to dance around each other, both at odds and working in a peculiar sort of harmony. While there's a confusing element to these four tunes, I would say that I prefer the vision displayed here. These four songs are unique and beautiful in a most remarkable way. A solid example is presented on closing track "Traum," which leaves things off on a perfect note. This release will be packaged as a sole compact disc, but the music here should be more than sufficient reason to consider purchase.

Both of these albums will be released from Temple of Torturous on March 31st. The label has recently announced that distribution in the United States will be done through Unholy Anarchy, but I'm not entirely sure when the album will be sold through the distributor. In the meantime, save your pennies and get ready for these two incredible albums.

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