Wednesday, November 9, 2016

In Cauda Venenum/Heir/Spectrale split (2016)

Here's a pretty interesting split released through the Emanations imprint of Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions, featuring a number of French bands, one of which (In Cauda Venenum) has already released their debut through the label last year. The stylistic representation here is a mix of black metal, post-black and sludge aesthetics, but the way the track list has been splayed out is to have the bands alternate between tracks, rather than simply take up 'sides' or 'chunks' of the play length all to themselves. Ultimately, one would hope that this means the materials will all flow together into one conceptual whole, but I actually found that while the genres really don't stray too distant from the three I had mentioned, that the differences in production values between the tracks can be rather disjointed, and where the riffing of the songs dives too deep into one particular area it also can create a little bit of an imbalance to the recording as a whole.

That said, I did not find much of the material here particularly unpleasant. In fact, the more ambient sequences, like Spectrale's "Sagittarius A" or the acoustic "Al Ashfar" and "Crepuscule" are quite nice, even if offset by the cruder bowels of sludgy, doomy, driving black metal, which peaks on the nearly 10-minute affront "Upon the Masses", a tune which at times seems like Altar of Plagues channeling Black Sabbath, streams of tremolo bleeding erupting from drudging, downtrodden chord swells. Their closer "Sectarism" is another highlight, with a more dissonant post-metal structure that also summons up a lot of those tremolo picked sequences. In Cauda Venenum, on the other hand, only contribute one piece, a 14+ minute remake of "Laura Palmer's Theme" from Badalamenti's Twin Peaks soundtrack, patched together from samples, long and sparse passages featuring a lot of sparse and dramatic instrumentation, driven by tinny beats and contrasted to sludgy distortion and a couple melodic black metal ruptures which compare closely enough to some of Heir's writing. The vocals used across the album are generally a rasp which can be repressed by the volume and tone of the other instruments, but consistent enough with a lot of what you'll hear from the post-black scene.

Heir really brings up the heavy end, especially during those double bass batteries in "Upon the Masses", while Spectrale serves as a sort of polar opposite, and In Cauda's Venenum's 'cover' interpretation bridges between the two poles. There are some intense, emotional moments strewn throughout its landscape, although conceptually it seems a little scattered...if the bands had just been produced/mixed a little closer to one another in tone, it could have been more effective as a solitary listening experience. But surely I've heard split recordings which are much more awkward and random than the pairing here, and there's a raunchy elegance here which kept me elevated past the potential boredom the longer tracks might have evoked. Not terribly resonant or catchy, but it was not absent of those passionate rushes of notes and atmosphere that put groups like Agalloch, Alcest and their peers on the radar of an audience looking for something graceful and gazy; these qualities are simply sandwiched between the acoustics of one of the participants and a tendency from Heir to delve further into pure black metal when it serves them.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

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