Saturday, 16 October 2010

Means to an End - Weathered By Time (2010) 75/100.

The strange thing about most recent depressive black metal bands is that they’re failing to produce that truly depressing sound. In the early part of the 2000’s, particularly a good chunk of the German scene, bands were able to effortlessly capture the sound of depression but, as the sub-genre has ages, it has lost a lot of momentum. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a number of bands producing solid material, but the decline of the scene in general hasn’t exactly been slow. The media attention fixating itself on the worst of the worst in bedroom bands doesn’t help matters either, especially when bands like Means To An End, a Belgium and United States based duo, are circulating the underground with genuinely good material in the form of their full-length debut, ‘Weathered By Time’. For bands that supposedly revolve around the idea of negative emotions and depression, a lot of the modern acts are struggling to capture what it truly feels like to be depressed in the form of their material. Means To An End, who’re by no means a modern day saving grace, function as one should in the sub-genre, as well as pertaining to the sorts of genre flirtations that one would normally expect from a band of this nature - such as intertwining small elements of the whole “metalgaze” phenomenon.

Having analysed the material, one can conclude that this album isn’t a glittering example of experimentation and evolution of ideas as far as taking the sub-genre onto the next level goes but it does do a lot of things well, such as the delivery of the vocals, which come in a number of varied forms. Bands like Happy Days have a reputation not for the faint hearted but one thing they do well is deliver the vocals. Of course, I’m not talking about the delivery in terms of the recording equipment, which sucks, or the production, which equally sucks, but the way in which they’re expressed. The cleaner side to the vocal displays may be a bit melodramatic and over-the-top but, alongside their tongue-in-cheek lyrics, which are also incredibly melodramatic, the vocals displays suit the style of the band. Means To An End have obviously come to similar sorts of conclusions to Happy Days as far as the vocal delivery goes, although I wouldn’t want to lump this band into the same sort of category as Happy Days for fear of turning people away with disgust.

Although I do think people tend to pick on Happy Days a bit unfairly, like the school bullies that we reviewers can be, they’re certainly nowhere near the standard that the forefathers of this sub-genre were at, like Forgotten Woods, for example. Means To An End have a more sustainable sound that Happy Days, and with it, a much more professional sound. The production is crisp. It gives the distortion of the guitars a really bombastic feel with, surprisingly, lots of energy and vigour despite the depressive qualities which include notably slow riffing and tortured vocals. When the album initially introduced itself to me, I had expected a Pensées Nocturnes type of affair. The introductory song, which is mesmerising in its beauty, is a completely instrumental song. No vocals, no lyrics. The songs relies heavily on a piano to inject an instant sense of melancholy and, as a huge fan of the piano in general, I knew that it would be capable of doing so with no drawbacks. The piano is met by an acoustic guitar part-way through the song and these two subtle instruments entwine to devastating affect. The piano alone is achingly beautiful but alongside an acoustic guitar, well, the result is fantastic.

Unfortunately, unlike Pensées Nocturnes, Means To An End don’t appear to be as capable musically because this introduction is the only time we come into contact with either a piano, or an acoustic guitar, an element which reminds me of those wonderful Cascadian black/folk bands like Skagos. The album is certainly a lot more repetitive and minimalistic in comparison to either of the Pensées Nocturnes full-lengths but, in its current format, it is certainly a capable album, definitely in terms of producing the right amount of emotion, unlike bands like Happy Days who, as aforementioned, have a habit of becoming a little too light on the instrumentation side and far too heavy with the bludgeoning lyrics and occasionally whining vocals. As I said earlier though, Happy Days were smart in their use of varied vocal approaches, much like Means To An End. We’ve got our typical rasps, oh yes, but we’re also introduced to cleaner forms of screams, which are much more distinguished. Although the variation in the vocals is sparse, it adds a much needed sense of adventure as the albums instrumentation patterns are set in their ways and generally unchanging.

The album is ever reliant on the norms, like the melodies of the guitars and the capabilities of the vocals, as far as expressing emotion is concerned. The album does deliver its fair share of solid melodies, as shown immediately on songs like ‘Oppressive White Light’. When it comes to areas like the bass and the drums, the appeal is limited, especially in terms of the bass, which takes a back seat. Thankfully the album has been condensed to a few songs of modest length, as opposed to numerous long songs with those useless filler tracks in between. Apart from the introductory instrumental, each song is a “proper” outing from Means To An End. In terms of comparisons, one thinks of usual candidates, such as Trist, the modern day pioneers of the depressive sound. As a listening experience, this is a worthwhile venture into the mind of two tortured souls. It represents well the decadence and decaying nature of the sub-genre despite not straying too far from the origins of the style.

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