Saturday, 27 March 2010

Alda - Alda (2009) 60/100.

Though the vast majority of black metal from the United States is looked down upon, perhaps due to the general prejudice against her politics and society, there is one area of the American scene which is currently flourishing, giving the entire underground movement in America a new lease of life and perhaps a distinctive façade which could go some way to improving relations between American musicians and non-American music audience. This area is known as the Cascade Range, a region described as being “a major mountain range of western North America, extending from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Northern California”. Having peaked my interest, I decided to use the power of the internet to my advantage and take a look at pictures of the vast area in which this range covers. Glorious mountains, tall trees as far as the eye can see and an interesting history which states that indigenous peoples have developed their own myths and legends concerning the area, a fact which heightens the listening experience of each of the individual acts that partake in this closely related scene.

For those who aren’t sure which bands fall into this category of Cascadian black metal, a quick search will tell you all you need to know. From well known acts like Skagos and Wolves in the Throne Room, to unknown entities such as Alda, the Cascade Range is slowly developing a reputation as one of the most formidable sub-scenes within the black metal industry, overtaking European factions in the popularity stakes as it continues to stride towards domination. With bands like Skagos leading the way, this movement is only going to keep on growing in stature. With this in mind, we have more and more bands sprouting up from out of the earth to take part in the building of an empire, or are they simply trying to cash in on a popular trend? I find that, with the amount of exposure this particular movement gets, it wouldn’t be out of the question that some acts do try to forge a career based upon the feel-good factor of fans in regards to the creators of the movement.

As I take the aesthetics of Alda into account, I can hear certain similarities to other bands like Skagos, but I reserve the right to have some doubts over the capabilities of bands like the four-piece Alda because they’re simply not as refined as other acts like Wolves in the Throne Room, another band who hold a few small similarities to Alda given the bands few promotional pictures of them playing their nature inspired music surrounded by ancient forestry and beautiful landscapes as they stretch their guitar strings to match the emotional reach of the band, which doesn’t factor into all of the songs, but most certainly does when it comes to the stirring epics like ‘Scattered On The Wind’, which features a beautiful, albeit repetitive drum and acoustic guitar alongside Michael’s aching vocals. It is evident through songs like this alone that Alda are certainly capable of producing top quality moments, but for the most part, this self-titled full-length lacks true longevity and a sense of inspired innovation which has seemingly captured the hearts and souls of the majority of musicians within this small, but majestic scene.

Though the self-titled record contains six songs, the essential two feature at the beginning and the end. As with every story, there needs to be an introduction that peaks an interest in the listener, which is where ‘Fimbulwinter’ comes into play but, although the ending contributes fantastically to the majesty of this record, the middle is where the story is let down by a lack of memorable qualities. ‘Fimbulwinter’ begins the journey with a sense of repetition, though this does not last throughout the entire duration of the song as a sense of stimulating atmospherics comes into play by way of guitar riffs akin to that of Wolves in the Throne Room. Onward from ‘The Seed and the Hailstone’ to ‘The Evergreen Womb’, Alda fail to generate that same spark as heard on the first song as the rest of the record consists of a buried bass, perhaps too raw a percussion sound, sometimes revolving too heavily around crashing cymbals and blast beats and an odd use of harsh, rasped vocals.

Given the strength of the scene in the Cascadian region, vocalist and drummer Michael needs to outshine the other elements by performing dynamically as a front man, but his vocals fail to deliver the innovation usually seen in this region. He sounds akin to a lesser Mikko Aspa of bands including Clandestine Blaze, Deathspell Omega and Stabat Mater. Within certain songs however, I feel an Agalloch inspired sound, as shown delightfully on ‘The Seed and the Hailstone’ which the ending acoustics that compliment the softer atmosphere terrifically. The distortion is soon brought in once again, but on ‘Vale’, it is drawn in alongside a far clean percussion sound, one which offers a sense of dynamism instead of that tired old feel it normally comes associated with due to the lack of creativity, even in textures. Unfortunately, this approach continues until the glorious ‘Scattered On The Wind’ which features much better vocals from Michael, this time in a cleaner form alongside the much more productive acoustics which generate a far more accessible emotional value than the distortion laden guitars throughout much of the record. Though this self-titled piece does grow on you, there is far too much mediocrity spread throughout the middle of the tale and, like cancer, its dangerously close to obscuring the better qualities that lay hidden within the songs, bar the first and final numbers.

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