Sunday, May 15, 2016
Zhrine - Unortheta 
To be sure, it is a bit unfair to be labelled 'French black metal' every time you try to put on a little bit of dissonance, but there's still some credibility to that statement when you think of the collective impact of Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord on the black metal scene. But then by nature I've come to expect nothing less from Iceland, home not only to some of the most astounding black/post-black metal acts of the last decade (Sólstafir, Kontinuum, Misþyrming) but also to a veritable breeding ground of pyroclastic destruction and ash, a fitting environment for the country's latest upstart Zhrine to pop out, a force to be reckoned with solely on the grounds of Unortheta's cover: a cavernous concave built within an archaic isle floating with the majesty of a tributary running straight through it, whose origin remains alluringly mysterious. Or so I would have it. And so, even though these gentleman come from the Deathspell Omega school of fucked-upedness, (a poster of Si Monvmentvm Requires, Circvmspice behind the bandstand in one of their early rehearsals evinces my deduction) there must have been a deal of unease when entirely emulating the sound of the famed Frenchmen, and for that reason Zhrine come off as genuine engineers of chaos and tumult in a form that feels both fresh and somewhat familiar, a healthy combination.
The forecast of this record is depravity and lifelessness. The opener ''Utopian Warfare'' aches with terrible beauty and emptiness, but the Icelanders have a wonderful tendency to keep the tracks within a certain range, scarcely mounting the 6-minute mark, which reinforces the tension with considerable brevity. The core of Unortheta, - largely a caustic brew of Gorguts, Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega, some Demilich and some Portal - should certainly appeal to audience toward which the sound is tailored, but this is a record busy with riffs and conscious about chord clarity which sets them apart in one way or another from their notorious benefactors. Songs like the virulent, fantastic ''Spewing Gloom'' are as good as their titles suggest, fleshing out discordant but enticing chord progression and distorted arpeggios, ballasted by frenetic, almost poly-rhythmic drumming that oscillate into slower Meshuggah-like grooves (as on ''Syringe Dance'', my favorite piece on the record) tempered by a slew of cymbal crashes and splashes. The idea is a veined array of cables, taut, snapped, then jangling and jumbling all over the place like a bunch of mechanic eels. The gloomy lows of vocals, to add, are not just great and evenly placed within the tracks, but also stretch into these far raspier, anguished chants that provide the perfect contrast of duality and grimness to the record.
Zhrine are great at building up moods and tensions before imploding with catharsis - hence the cable imagery. They don't take their sweet time with it though, which is good, because who wants to hear hours upon hours of dysfunctional clean guitars drowsed in reverb just to hear a bunch of cool riffs at the end? The mechanism of Unortheta is rewarding in that the build-ups are just long enough for you too feel truly ravished and incited about the upcoming spasm of dissonance, a perfect example being ''World'' with boils into a crushing wave of riffs before plateauing into slower pace once more, after which the listener is greeted with a broiling haunt of pure black metal chords. Rhythmic variations also bring atmospheric sludge mavericks like Mouth of the Architect, Neurosis and Isis to mind, so it's undeniable that Unortheta is keenly probing the boundaries of its norms; what's better is that there seems to be no shortage of good riffs or hooks throughout the record, with humdingers like ''Empire'' and ''The Earth Inhaled'' counterbalancing the rear end of the album. With the exception of a few dull moments here and there Unortheta retains its abysmal aura and dire pallor, mapping out a new gap to be explored by bands performing in accordance to the so called 'French' school of black metal, or just contagious, neanderthal caverncore, which remains surprisingly popular in 2016. All told, unless you were looking for something burlesque or cheerful on this album - and you quite literally have to be a neanderthal to be searching for that - the probability that it will disappoint is low; the probability that will erase all your hopes and yearnings off the face of the earth and turn your ears into honeycombs of tar and ash - much higher.
The Syringe Dance