Monday, 7 June 2010

Austerity - Austerity (2009) 40/100.

I understand that funeral doom musicians thrive on minimalistic environments, but I still have a hard time accepting it. Understanding and acceptance don’t always go hand-in-hand, certainly when it comes to the shocking simplicity of some funeral doom bands, this includes Italy’s Austerity, a band I came by chance whilst I was browsing information on Australian black metal band Austere. One way I like to find new bands is by looking for artists with similar names and since I like the word “austere”, “austerity” wasn’t a difficult transition to make. However, something I had expected to be difficult was the giant leap from minimalistic black metal to bare-bones funeral doom, especially given the fact that Austerity like to indulge heavily in ambient soundscapes. This is a sub-genre which absolutely thrives on formulaic song structures and repetitious dirges with barely any experimentation occurring between songs. Austerity’s self-titled debut is just another funeral doom album which admits defeat, lays down and dies within the opening song, a track called ‘Lacrime’.

The song, which clocks in at just over eleven minutes, is one that doesn’t like to deviate from its opening standards. In fact, it isn’t until the third minute or so that Austerity, another one man project spearheaded by Zavo, abruptly stops on its path towards a minimalistic ambient destination and alters course, albeit only slightly. This introductory song, albeit mood affecting, isn’t a good representation of funeral doom, or even the band as the second song, entitled ‘Nacht und Morgenröte’, deviates almost entirely from the ambient beginnings of the album. I would have considered this a “filler” track if it were of a reasonably short length, but considering it clocks in at over eleven minutes, I’m not about to consider this an easy-listening, all-instrumental affair that merely builds to a colossal mid-section of the album itself. The introductory song is very important in establishing a connection with the listener and, although Zavo provides a nice, albeit dull atmospherical number, the song doesn’t pull me in and under like the vast majority of the best funeral doom bands do.

The idea is to be quick off the bat and waste no time in attracting your listeners’ senses with astral soundscapes and tight instrumentation. Until the third minute of ‘Lacrime’, there is nothing much of anything. I imagine the glistening soundscapes that remind me of old Italian monuments, possibly those of a religious nature and subtle chanting, which does have a very psychedelic feel to it, is created by the integral keyboards -- an aspect of the album which plays a key part in the make-up of the songs, especially the opening song and the ending to it where the sullen sounding piano plays its anthem to loneliness without assistance from the distorted, dissonant guitars. This sudden change in atmosphere is the only thing worth noting in ‘Lacrime’, a song bereft of quality and outstanding aspects. The whirlwind like guitars, producing by repetitious riffing lead well into the next song, though I do get the feeling, as I normally do with funeral doom, that the songs could have been condensed into smaller, tighter fitting spaces where the atmosphere could possibly have been heightened by the shorter lengths.

Instead we’re left with some dull ambiance to lead us in and out of songs which really could do with some more in the way of experimentation. The lyrical themes of annihilation and depression do come across very well in the instrumentation, but it isn’t difficult to convey those types of emotions, feelings, or messages in music which is designed to be downbeat. Once again, as with ‘Lacrime’, ‘Nacht und Morgenröte’ comes in stages. The song writing for this particular song is much improved however. It doesn’t wait eight minutes to change the direction of the song into the path of another meaningless direction. This time Zavo transforms an ordinary sounding atmosphere into one which resonates with the sombre emotions in me and he does this by merely changing how the guitars operate within the atmosphere. From dense repetition to clean chords played repeatedly over, and over, and over again. Although he does insert some rather awkward sounding vocals over what appears to be a cheap production (a la Happy Days), the cleaner aspects of the song aren’t undone by the clumsy vocal displays -- if they are in fact vocals and not just samples, or programmed effects.

It’s very hard to distinguish as the song has a dense structure in the background whilst the foreground material, which includes the good work of the guitars, is open and airy. As I previously stated, the album is one that comes in stages of progression and regression. Whilst the cleaner aspects of the guitars take the album, in its entirety, forward, the keyboard driven ambiance generally tends to take it backwards, as with the overly long, overly tedious ‘Una Luce, Lontano’ which features some very sombre keys, but no real progression in terms of building the atmosphere. Having said that, ‘Novembre’ features clean instrumentation which builds slowly from the beginning alongside swelling distortion and feedback, but still manages to come across as unworthy, though this is the first real time that the percussion does anything of note, which highlights the extent of the problems the listener is facing here, unless, of course, you enjoy minimalistic ambiance and what I consider to be average riffs, clichéd instrumentation and lacklustre soundscapes and vocals. A dire debut, but by no means the worst in the sub-genre.

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