Friday, 11 September 2009

Heartless - Suicidal Engagement. 70/100.

The full force of the depressive sub-genre of black metal can be felt when one delves deeper into the dark abyss that it is drawn out from. By this I mean that even small, generally unnoticed metal communities are producing bands that fit into this sub-genre. Of course, mainland Europe and North America receives the most attention for the style, simply because these regions, generally speaking, produce higher quality material in terms of production values and musical capabilities when it comes to instrumentation. There is no genetic ruling which suggests that persons from Asia cannot and will not become leading forces within this maligned sub-genre but, for now, this is a scene dominated by the West as the style is more developed in these parts. This sub-genre isn’t the most complex, in terms of instrumentation, but nevertheless, producing top quality material within this field has become somewhat of a difficult task given the picky nature of the audience members who have come to expect the worst from this realm of music.

Though the West may have a stranglehold on the sub-genre, reaping the rewards of a system that allows music like this to be covered without censorship, nations like China and, surprisingly so, places like Mexico are developing scenes with which they hope will draw the attention of the crowds with their underground talents. China, for example, is developing a scene and no matter how small it might be right now, it will probably take off and become a major force in Chinese metal. Be Persecuted, for example, are the first depressive black metal band that I’ve encountered from this region. Heartless, the band in question, are the second. Though these two stand out the most, the reasons are contrasting and the difference between good and evil is widening with every stroke of the strings. Be Persecuted are considered a top drawer depressive band. What one would expect the genre to provide, Be Persecuted delivers, but with a slight twist on proceedings. So much so, this twist allows the band to become more of a vocal point and centres the attention around them, thus causing mass neglect in regards to bands like Heartless, who have a limited appeal.

Be Persecuted, for instance, provide all your typical expressions of pain and anger through harsh, sombre vocals and distorted guitar passages with a double bass backing, but there is a lot more to their sound than meets the eye. An example of this is in the fact that the band are led by a female vocalist, a trait yet to be utilised as well as Be Persecuted manage. This tactic is bold and brave, but it works. Her convincing vocals are better than the majority of male vocalists in this field and she proves that when compared to Lu, Heartless’ only member - another regular theme in this sub-genre these days - one man bands. Lu has, evidently, been inspired by Silencer. Everything about ‘Suicidal Engagement’ screams SILENCER - especially the vocals. Nattramn’s well documented style has been covered to death. High, ear splitting screams, shrill as a banshee, ring out across a black skyline as if to tell the world, “Here is my fuck you - I am committing suicide.” Lu’s vocals are overbearing. Given the production style, which scared me at the beginning of the record, his vocals have a tendency to make the instrumentation seem small, as if they’re a lesser part of the overall picture. This is how not to appeal to the depressive critic.

His vocals, though close in terms of comparisons to Nattramn, are a deterrent. Nattramn’s vocals have never been regarded as the “be-all-and-end-all” of black metal. In fact, his piercing, shrill screams have been mocked to hell and back, “He sounds like a girl with really bad constipation!” cries the disgruntled listener. There is some variation and though I appreciate it, I imagine most people won’t. I can hear comparisons to Happy Days being made given the overused samples of thunderstorms and interchangeable vocals - from sorrowful clean words, to the high pitched wails. These cleans vocals remind me a lot of Happy Days and the way they use dual vocals to display the varying levels of pain. I, myself, enjoy this element of both bands - Happy Days and Heartless - but I understand that Happy Days are generally regarded as worthless. As far as the vocals go in delivering a consistent message of depravity and depression, they work well. One has to remember that the vocals aren’t exactly meant to exhibit vast amounts of talent, or even vocal ranges, but they’re serving a worthwhile purpose in accompanying the instrumentation on the journey to the end of life, and in doing so, they’re apt enough to pass the test.

Although they’re overshadowing, they work well in the grand scheme of things. The instrumentation has some variation, especially in terms of the guitars, but overall, its bare bones - lots of bass repetition, ineffectual double bass blasts that add no texture given the thin sound quality (this is an element that also hampers the bass) and an overdose of melancholy as the vocalist writhes in pain. Variation is a necessity in this game sometimes because it keeps us on our toes and whilst Heartless apply this technique, it isn’t long before we’re faced with old methods and worn out ways. ‘The Time’ is a good example of this, beginning with an Elysian Blaze like introduction of a sombre piano passage, really emotive and heartfelt, then the self-titled track, ‘Suicidal Engagement’ breaks away from this evocative sound with an emotionless rendition of a Happy Days song (or so it sounds like). There is potential here, undoubtedly, but for now - stick with Be Persecuted as they are China’s leading depressive band.

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