UFOMAMMUT, YEAR OF NO LIGHT, AND THE ART OF LEARNING WHEN TO WRAP-IT-UP, B
Metal critics with boners for post-metal are a dime a dozen. The genre’s like the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men: fairly popular with the masses, immensely popular with us ivory tower folk. Though for those that grow sick of blastbeats, slams, and breakdowns (and especially those who listen to the music post-metallers crib from for their expansiveness), Isis, Neurosis, and the like can sound like a welcome departure from the norm, a patient and cerebral way to arrive at heaviness that, when properly appreciated, can be twice as rewarding as a bunch of hit-it-and-quit 19 year olds only aiming to make kids mosh. The downside, though, are those who don’t grasp what makes post-metal (or ambient sludge or metalgaze or whatever the goddamn fuck I’m supposed to call it) so great, opting to instead meander around for ten- and sometimes twenty-plus minutes, mistaking “long” for “epic” and producing a self-indulgent mess detractors most likely “just doesn’t get,” the sort of pomposity that drove so many people to metal in the first place. Of course, the latter is where most of the genre’s bands fall — especially in the Internet Ag e– and can thusly overshadow the subtle brilliance of post-metal’s most essential works (Isis’ Oceanic, Cult of Luna’s Eternal Kingdom, Pelican’s The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, to name a few). Like any other genre, when an album goes wrong, man, does it go wrong hard.
Take, for example, Eve, the latest by Italian psychedelic-metallers Ufomammut. It consists of one eponymously-titled song, 44 minutes in length, and though wondering when it’s going to get to the point may be missing the point, it leaves one wondering, “Is this going to go anywhere?” fairly often. Though interesting in parts — especially those building tension — the album/song ends up being dull and repetitive, a landscape of mildly sloping hills where there are supposed to be peaks and valleys. The long song is tough: for every hypnotic masterpiece like Sleep’s “Dopesmoker,” there’s a wandering mess like Jesu’s “Infinity” and four unlistenable clusterfucks like Fantomas’ “Delirium Cordia.” So while Ufomammut should be commended for giving it a shot, Eve winds up being a misfire. When the sludge riffs show up to make good on the built tension, they’re not interesting enough to justify the wait, and linger too long. A song of excessive length should be able to justify its existence; the only thing Eve justifies is tapping one’s watch.
French post-metallers Year of No Light fare a little better on Ausserwelt, their new album. Already authors to one of the genre’s underrated classics — 2006’s Nord — they’ve proven themselves adept at moving naturalistically between genres, balancing heavy and light like a reflex. Their desire to experiment and further expand their sound works both to their advantage and detriment on Ausserwelt, at times lilting and evocative while bloated and seemingly unending in others. The album’s first half — dedicated to the two part “Perséphone” — is a slowly gathering mist of guitars, occasionally focusing in on a riff before dissipating back into the ether. It’s as interesting and thorough as the band’s best, and illustrates why the band can go toe-to-toe with any “thinking man’s metal” band confidently. But the second half collapses under its own contemplative weight, moving at a fatally slow pace and ultimately adding up to 26 minutes of intangible mush. Even the interesting presence of blastbeats underneath the droning in certain spots doesn’t change much; the noteworthy bits are swallowed up by the superfluous navelgazing that overwhelmingly surrounds it.
What winds up ruining Ausserwelt in the long run is its lack of a vocalist. And though post-metal needs another Isis/Godflesh-style barking vocalist (like YONL had on Nord) like deathcore needs more Pro Tools-edited shredding and breakdowns, sometimes, even when generic, a vocalist adds a much-needed center to the band’s surrounding scenery; even Pelican go a little too far out there every now and again. And that’s the Achilles Heel of sub-par post-metal bands and/or albums: the lack of a discernible point. While to the uninitiated/uninterested they may all sound pointless, the best among them have a purpose buried under the Mogwai-biting guitar noodling and downtuned walls of sludge: tension is carefully and precisely built and moods are expertly crafted so that the heavy payoff can devastate you. Post-metal’s less inspired and ultimately forgotten works tend to think it’s all about the journey, when the destination plays an equal if not greater role. The worst thing you can do is arrive thinking, “Why in the hell am I here?”
Year of No Light, Ausserwelt