Thursday, 23 September 2010

Deathgate Arkanum - Totenwerke (2005) 40/100.

Over the years I’ve come to expect a high standard from German black metal bands across the board and regardless of sub-genre classifications. When one comes along that goes against the normal standards of the scene in Germany, meaning that they’re mediocre, it comes as a much bigger surprise than it would if the band were from another country. Germany isn’t simply another up-and-coming nation when it comes to black metal but it’s a leading figure, dominant and imperious in its reign, particularly in the realm of depressive black metal, the sub-genre which Deathgate Arkanum fall under and a sub-genre which has birthed a number of successful bands in the region, including the likes of Anti, Nyktalgia and Wigrid. Deathgate Arkanum’s venture into the depressive territories hasn’t been anywhere near as successful as those aforementioned bands and ‘Totenwerke’ goes some way to explaining why exactly that is.

Although fellow depressive acts like Wigrid use programmed drums, Deathgate Arkanum don’t manage to integrate them into the song structures at all well. In fact, one several occasions, the drums feel very sloppy and not in accordance with the rest of the material. Though they’re fairly standard, meaning slow to mid paced with the occasional fast blasts, they stand out like a sore thumb, despite the fact that this album consists of a very dense atmosphere, one which is often shrouded by the approach of the vocals. Bands like Abyssic Hate and Wigrid have managed to draw the attention away from the fact that they use drum machines through the use of heavily melodic and very memorable guitar riffs. The very essence of albums like ‘Hoffnungstod’ is melodic riffs which captivate the listeners. ‘Totenwerke’ does the exact opposite of this by generating a number of sub-par riffs, most of which are as forgettable as they come and, instead, fixating the attention of the listener on what is wrong with the release.

The drumming is one part of it but there are several other areas which fail to deliver the standards of instrumentation and musicianship that I’ve personally come to expect from German bands of this nature. The guitars, the very backbone of any metal album, are poor. They develop no real sense of atmosphere or direction. Of course, the albums characteristics all point towards the many connotations of depression but the atmosphere is very generic and hampered by the length of the album, as well as the fact that Lestahn, the sole member of this project, decides to integrate an unexpected and downright unnecessary instrumental song in the form of ‘Freigeist’ (though it does use some vocals, though only sparsely - for all intents and purposes, this is an instrumental song), just another song riddled with problematic issues which start with the unflinching atmosphere and inabilities of this atmosphere to draw the listener in and toil with their emotions. Inspired, seemingly at least, by Burzum, this album is as generic as they come.

The song writing is mediocre and the style is very commonplace, with the instrumental song even sounding like a Burzumic tale of prison-era woe. The song aims to feel majestic and reflect how it feels to have lost but the movement of the atmosphere is too slow and generally not in keeping with the rest of the album. Also, Lestahn has chosen to make this the third of four songs, a decision which baffles me. As an introductory song, or even an outro, this could have worked but its sense of position is all wrong, again leading to questions about Lestahn’s ability to shape an album into something memorable. The introduction of an instrumental song hampers what little sense of direction there is. The only song to offer some form of decent song writing, in terms of the guitar riffs, is the clichéd ’I Open My Veins’, the only song to feature the English language, though the vocals are so incomprehensible, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. There is some sense of vision buried deep beneath the buzzing atmospherics in the form of the synths. Again, as on songs like ‘I Open My Veins’, the synths don’t play too significant a role but they’re a welcomed addition to the fairly substandard approach of Lestahn and Deathgate Arkanum in general.

The synths are fairly buried however, so you’ll have to keep an ear out for them as they generally don’t tend to feature too much with the foreground work and the vocals are very overpowering, especially when taken into consideration the impenetrable barrier they forge alongside the buzzing qualities of the distorted guitars. Despite the rigidity of the atmosphere and production, areas like the bass and synths do feature though, as I stated earlier, not at all predominantly. The bass is generally used as a back-up and isn’t too interested in the idea of being individualistic, whereas the synths offer much more in the way of creativity and vision, though you could be forgiven for thinking they seemed largely out-of-place on an album as rigid and lifeless as this. The intertwining of the ambiance certainly seems like a homage to Burzum and albums like ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ but, unlike Varg, Lestahn doesn’t have the ability as a musician or an artist to pull it off anywhere near as well as Varg. A very mediocre album.

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