Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Arktika - Heartwrencher. 72/100.

Despite the awful name, Arktika are commanding and dignified as an atmospheric sludge act. Although I have some minor issues with the vocals, I do like the instrumental approach from the band who come from Germany, a place not often associated with sludge, let alone the atmospheric sub-genre that has caused major debates in the metal underground between fans. It would seem die-hard fans of the traditional style conceived by bands like Acid Bath and Crowbar are incensed that atmospheric sludge has no place in the metal portal. Instead, it sits outside the clan on united genres and sub-genres, ready and waiting to slip into the fray unnoticed, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening. Atmospheric sludge, never atmospheric sludge metal, apparently, is a blasphemic creation that dispels the origins of the genre and neglects what made sludge so fantastic to begin with. On a purely personal level, I must admit, I wasn’t aware of the genre debates, nor am I aware of the supposedly vast differences between the two. After all, one formed from the other so is it truly inconceivable to think that sludge of the atmospheric kind should experiment a bit more with its sound and at least try to deviate away from the tradition standards? I don’t think so, personally and neither do Arktika.

In actual fact, I think the formation of this recent genre is actually beneficial to the original because it gives fans more of an outlet to vent their frustrations at and in to. Genres with one dimensional styles often become tiresome and usually very quickly, so having a few distinctive sub-genres off the side is a welcomed addition to the original because it gives fans, like me, more variation to worship and ultimately, more bands with which to listen to and obsess over. Arktika’s arrival on the scene has come at a time when atmospheric sludge is just beginning to make its move away from the traditions and towards the new, more experimental home. Like a child who’s evolving into an adult and moving away from home for the first time, the parenting genre of sludge metal is reluctant to let its offspring go but ultimately, the parent must accept that there will be a time when their child needs to spread their wings and fly away from the roost. Though they may prevent it happening on occasions, it will ultimately take place. It may not be today, but it will be tomorrow. Sludge metal is a genre I frequent to. I enjoy its soundscapes, given the right mood. I like the aggression it offers me. I find the aggression more accessible than the aggression provided by some areas of the death metal genre, that generally appeals to me about as much as having AIDS appeals to me.

A lot of people claim that atmospheric sludge is nothing more than post-rock, which is why I think it appeals to me. Generally, I would consider myself a fan of post-rock, so using this as an insult to describe atmospheric metal obviously has no affect on me. In fact, it intrigues me more when a band is given this inane treatment by the delusional masses who believe the traditions need to be applied to all areas and all bands within the overall genre. Its like religion, or at least what many people say about religion. Genres debates brainwash people, like religion supposedly does, and gives the listener, or avid onlooker, the belief that something is either “right” or “wrong”. I’d say its neither, to be honest. There are no right or wrong ways to experiment with a genre and that includes blending it with outside factors. You may or may not like what you hear, but isn’t everything subjective anyway? No one has to adhere to anyone else’s opinions when it comes to something as trivial as music. This debut EP, ‘Heartwrencher’ bridges the gap between certain aspects like hardcore, post-rock and sludge (be it atmospheric or otherwise). Though I’m not overly keen on the hardcore based vocals that remind me of the early Isis days (I have always been a fan of Turner’s clean vocals, less so his harsh vocals), I do like a lot of the instrumentation.

Of course, as one might expect, the production is a little thin, but considering this is a debut EP, we can let it slide. The production isn’t awful, or anything. It just doesn’t conceal the overused distortion well. When the two guitarists use clean styles, the band sound immense and alongside the depressing samples from the psychologically destroying movie ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ (1971), which are used in a lot of songs. I’ve come across it a few times and its despairing words never cease to affect me emotionally, “If I had arms I could kill myself, if I had legs I could run away”. Though these samples don’t offer much insight to the sound, they do reflect well against the rather depressing style Arktika take up which isn’t usual of bands of this nature. Instead, most bands are usually fixated on aggression and immature hatred, but this German band use bass, two aspiring guitars and drums well in their quest to draw depression out from behind the sun, the rays of light in life, the provider of life, obscuring it and killing everything that lives off its rays of hope. The vocals are generally the only thing to apply cliché to this band and with that, I hope to hear more from Arktika in the future.

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