Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Ossein - Declination (2008) 100/100.

There’s a temptation for me to look upon Ossein with a head full of doubts. I see their discography and I read about how they’ve moved from one genre of music to another without sticking primarily to the metal industry. From an experimental black metal record in this opus, entitled ‘Declination’, to an electronic record and moving on to avant-gardé, Ossein have covered a wide range of genres, each vastly different from the previous. When I notice bands have chosen to experiment with their sound on each and every record they’ve produced, there is a tendency to believe that, overall, the band will become a huge disappointment. I’ve closely followed a few bands of this nature, like Ulver, for example. From their black metal mixed with folk roots to ambient works, Ulver have steadily decreased in value to me. Much the same can be said about bands like the one-man entity that is Procer Veneficus. One, perhaps two decent ambient black metal affairs, including a surreal acoustic based record, to numerous obsolete ambient works which fail to move me in any way significantly.

Though I’m not familiar with Ossein’s work after their stellar debut, I cannot help but tarnish them with the same brush as the likes of the aforementioned bands who have deteriorated in terms of quality in recent years due to the fact that they cannot stick to one genre for any substantial amount of time. Having said that, what I have to go on is some very unfortunate past experiences and although this does tend to breed wisdom through understanding, I do not wish to rid myself of the opportunity to hear what Ossein have to say on their other three records to establish whether it’s as dramatic as the impression they have left on me here. ‘Declination’, for all intensive purposes, is one of the best black metal records I’ve heard in a very long time. Although I try to stay away from 100% ratings in my reviews, I feel that no other score is justified since this record truly offers something unheard of in the black metal field and left me with no other choice than to issue it such a score due to the fact that it moved me so much upon hearing it the first time, and every other time after that.

Gracious, luscious and sweet sounding aren’t descriptions usually associated with black metal, but there is a definite romantic side to ‘Declination’, though it is not portrayed in a similar fashion to bands like Amesoeurs, who have a post-punk influence, or Alcest, Neige’s main creation. Bands such as these project a romantically tinted style of black metal in a variety of ways, but Ossein do it differently and in a way that I feel would be far more accessible to metal fans, including those who don’t appreciate the works of either Amesoeurs, or Alcest. However, this isn’t the end of the experimentation as Ossein happen to delve into a few distinctively different styles along the way, including into ambient music, as shown perfectly throughout all three songs on the record, and even towards a more primitive styled black metal that wouldn’t be out of place during the mid 1990’s with its fierce distortion and biting vocals. I feel the length of the songs may intimidate some, but I happen to love long winding epics that twist and turn at every opportunity, something which this record does sublimely. Without too much emphasis on repetition, though it does occur in places and stunningly (sometimes in the form of tremolo led semi-acoustic passages), Ossein firmly establish themselves as what they say they are -- experimental.

The lengths of the songs seem to me to be very important having heard the record a few times, usually on repeat. When it comes to showcasing the subtle, slow ambiance of each of the songs, timing is everything. One cannot feel the passion in the atmosphere if the ambiance isn’t allowed time to dwell on certain emotions that it can connect the listener with. The songs, even the final thirty minute plus epic, are all the right length and this gives the band ample opportunities to showcase what they’re truly good at -- interweaving styles such as mesmerising black metal with an acoustic folksy sound and then with delightful ambient passages. Ossein never dwell too long on any one sound in particular and cautiously move from influence to influence in a heartbeat, successfully manoeuvring between the genres with great skill and technique, highlighting the importance of the song writing.

One song to highlight this all magnificently is the philosophically titled ‘A Fool Sees Not The Same Tree That A Wise Man Sees’. Beginning with an Agalloch-esque acoustic guitar and some unique floating ambiance, the tone is set for the rest of the achingly beautiful song, one which moves from ambient to black metal without causing any hassle whatsoever. The coveted distortion factor soon becomes a part of the record, forcing its way through the atmosphere without damaging the beautiful, serene qualities of the soundscapes which are forged by the talented Itay. The vocals are very much in the vein of early black metal bands, rasping and passionately screaming out their lyrical themes with intent and conviction. The vocals work wonderfully side-by-side with the heavy percussion, which features some double bass work and a stoic stance in comparison to the clear emotional pathway of the programming that takes place within the structures. The black metal elements compliment the other elements remarkably well and they forge a tight alliance which sees them equally move me in different, but very real ways.

When the acoustics and clean segments come into play, Nile’s vocals also take a turn towards a cleaner destination. No longer is he rasping for his life, but he is singing cleanly and with glamorous devotion, akin to vocalists like Garm, of Ulver. Although the distortion does like to place different shades of light and dark over certain elements, the instrumentation is usually audible and hard working beneath the surface. At times, the clean and distorted aspects work alongside one another and produce top drawer moments, as on the impeccable ‘A Fool Sees Not The Same Tree That A Wise Man Sees’. Acoustics alongside clean vocals with distorted tremolo guitars alongside heavy percussion work. The mixture between the two is even and in no way does one aspect of the record outweigh, or outmuscle the other. ‘The Road To Awe’ even finishes with a shimmering atmosphere and sombre piano based instrumentation, something I didn’t expect. A record full to the brim with surprises and truly wondrous moments, I can safely say that ‘Declination’ is one of the best black metal records I’ve heard in many, many years.

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