Saturday, 17 April 2010

Bann - Æschatologia (2009) 80/100.

After being introduced to Pensées Nocturnes by the bands record label, I went through a brief phase where I was obsessed with black metal bands that combined neoclassical influences into their music, this is precisely how I came across Germany’s Bann, a combined effort by J. Thurn, who provides the instrumentation (aside from the two bit-part session musicians who provided small parts to this record) and C. Hoffarth, the bands lyricist and vocalist. The problem with small sub-genres of black metal, like the neoclassical black metal field, if you can even call it a sub-genre of its own, is that they’re obviously not as developed, meaning there are more unrefined bands who have not yet mastered the untamed stylistic approach of this wild beast. With the traditions of this form of music still being written, the history books are blank and have yet to be defined. Bann’s debut, entitled ‘Æschatologia’, is an exquisite piece of visionary music which is adept at solving the various problems with which this type of music might run into, though it isn’t without its own issues that need attending to.

Although I would consider some of the songs to be too long in length, I don’t feel that Bann have too many other problems to address in the future when it comes to a potential sophomore and the evolution of the bands sound. With ties to sub-genres like symphonic black metal, I find it hard to believe that neoclassical aspects haven’t been as widely used as certain other influences within the black metal scope. Bann’s ‘Æschatologia’, I would imagine, shouldn’t be that inaccessible to fans who have grown up on bands like Dimmu Borgir, or even Emperor (particularly this band), bands who have included symphonic touches into their own musical ventures. This record offers a consistency to the neoclassical black metal field that it probably isn’t used to yet, with it probably being ahead of its time. Acts like Bann will seemingly become important factors in the growth of neoclassical black metal since they could be called one of the originators and, alongside bands like Pensées Nocturnes, they have “perfected” it as much as anyone else, due to the fact that the style has, as previously stated, not experienced the sort of growth in popularity as, lets say, depressive black metal.

‘Æschatologia’ is, as touched upon previously, an accessible piece of black metal. Whether we’re assessing the rather timid production, the graceful symphonic touches of the compositions, or even the vocals (which tend to vary throughout), Bann’s approach is as accessible as it comes. The slow to mid paced build-ups of songs like ‘Narrenschyff’ (probably the highlight of the record), alongside the vocal approach, which is definitely akin to that of Eviga of Dornenreich, make Bann a subtle force. The vocals, strangely, do become a central figure within the songs. I don’t normally expect much from vocalists in the black metal genre. Normally, I would want them to fuse themselves into the atmosphere and blend in with the instruments, but C. Hoffarth has a distinctive voice due to his alternative approach to singing which, as stated, comes in the form of whispered shrieks just as Eviga performs with Dornenreich. However, as with Eviga, Hoffarth’s vocals don’t offer much in the way of presence. They’re certainly not overshadowed by the instrumentation, which Eviga’s vocals were in a live setting by the violins, but I do feel the vocal approach would be far too soft to carry over well in a live setting.

The band, spearheaded by musician J. Thurn, are never full-on. The black metal structures are condensed within the songs so that the symphonic elements can expand and add new textures to the records beautiful, graceful and delicate feel. The violins especially, shown wonderfully on ‘Narrenschyff’ alongside the repetitive guitars, give the record a generally light feel. More often than not black metal bands with symphonic elements can place too much emphasis on those symphonic aspects and therefore drown out the basis of the record, that being the black metal influenced bass, drums, guitar and even the vocals. J. Thurn, Bann’s main man, has sought to rid the band of these problems by smartly moving to give the record a sense of balance through cohesion and a necessary development of both overriding aspects on an equal plain, as shown superbly on ‘Carmina Necrologia’, which once again delicately places the violin, which is played much slower than I would have expected, and the keyboard side-by-side with the distorted guitars, which can sometimes lack a sense of power because I tend to fixate more of the soft melodies of the keyboard and violin, and the heavy, dreary presence of the percussion, which can also lack prowess at times.

The ambiance, the neoclassical sections and the black metal instrumentation generally do co-exist peacefully beneath the dark cloud which the production places over this record, but I do feel the record would have benefited from shorter songs due to the fact that the drums and guitars can become too repetitious and when they’re not fulfilling their listener with memorable beats, or riffs, they merely just exist to push the listeners attention toward the impact of the keyboards, acoustics, which feature beautifully on songs like ‘Die Letzen Dinge (Æschatolog)’ -- unfortunately, another song which feels it could have been condensed into a few minutes, rather than extending to twelve because it can become largely repetitive -- and overwhelming violin, which graces the soundscapes with achingly beautiful textures. These elements don’t overpower like they normally do on symphonic based records, but they do so in other, perhaps more harmful ways. On occasions they can make the guitars, in particular, appear more mediocre than they probably are. It isn’t all doom and gloom, as I’ve explained. I do feel that Bann have come close to greatness here, but they’re just short of the mark and could do with integrating more powerful guitars into the mix, rather than expecting a generally distorted approach to be sufficient enough by itself. Good, but not yet great.

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