Friday, 21 January 2011

Circle of Ouroborus - Shores (2006) 70/100.

Experimental black metal is as hit-or-miss as a sub-genre can be. Although it must be said that there are far more misses than there are hits, unfortunately. Thankfully however this Finnish duo, operating under the moniker of Circle of Ouroborus, fall into the latter category of hit, or at least their debut full-length, entitled ‘Shores’, does. This is a band I have very little experience of, despite having known about them for many years now. I’ve heard their debut countless times but I’ve strangely never sought out their latter efforts, although I do vaguely remember being repulsed by their sophomore effort - I daresay I’ll have to go back to that one some day soon. ‘Shores’ however has always stuck out in my mind as being one of the more pleasurable experiences when it comes to experimental black metal, again, a sub-genre which often fails to establish a connection with me. Circle of Ouroborus aren’t entirely original, although they do have a few characteristics which fit the criteria of true originality - especially when it comes to the vocals, an aspect of the band which could very well be described as hit-or-miss themselves.

There’s something about this Finnish duo which has me coming back time and again despite the fact that they’re of relatively small stature when it comes to making an impression on the global black metal scene. With Finland being a hot bed for black metal talent, Circle of Ouroborus only seem to have a small band of dedicated fans, unlike many of their fellow countrymen in black metal bands. With Finland gaining a lot of exposure in terms of its black metal scene, I am surprised that Circle of Ouroborus’ quirky brand of experimental black metal hasn’t hit the ground running, especially since the band have become so prolific when it comes to writing and releasing albums. However, I can understand how this could be off putting to a newcomer. It’s often so difficult to know where to begin. In this day and age one can be forgiven for wanting to sift through the shit to reach the so-called “good stuff” because, lets face it, black metal is a genre particularly burdened by an insane amount of awful bands with atrocious material.

When it comes to a band like this, I myself find it daunting to know where to begin. I suppose it doesn’t matter since they’re an experimental band by definition and are likely to alter their sound from album-to-album. What first struck me about this album before having heard a single song from it was the fact that we have a Joy Division cover. As a Joy Division and post-punk fan, I greeted the decision to include this particular cover with both a sense of apprehension and excitement, two very conflicting emotions. I was pleased that the Finnish duo had decided to break the mould by not covering something generic like Burzum’s ‘War’, a song I detest and being bold and brave by covering something which actually has nothing to do with the genre they play in. However, as a fan of Joy Division, I was met with feelings of apprehension because I didn’t want to listen to another untalented band butcher a song by a band I adore. The cover, whilst not being particularly strong in some departments, is certainly decent enough not to warrant a verbal bashing and ridicule for their choices.

I actually rather enjoyed their take of the song although I don’t think the vocal approach of Circle of Ouroborus suit’s the Joy Division style, although their faster, less refined instrumental passages are actually interesting and far different to most of the covers of this particular song that I have personally heard. However, Joy Division, whilst being exceptional instrumentally, were always a band that relied heavily on the lyrics and vocals of Ian Curtis, so that aspect of the song is rather lost on Circle of Ouroborus, a band which, to their credit, have stuck to their guns in regards to the vocals approach on the song as it is exactly on this song as it is on the entire album - a weird and unusual spoken type of vocals that tend to blur into the distortion of the background. As with most of their song, Circle of Ouroborus also apply their black rock feel to the cover, which I felt was a nice touch. I’m glad that they didn’t ditch their own style when covering a band which has, seemingly anyway, influenced their own sound. The vocals are certainly the main part of this cover which falls flat when you compare the vocalist of this band to the departed Ian Curtis, a man whose voice influenced a generation of post-punk artists.

The album was never going to be won on this cover, although it could very well have been lost on it. Thankfully, it wasn’t, so the rest of the material comes into play when collating my opinions of this piece. The opening song, entitled ‘Nothingness’, is a particularly strong song and one of the best on the album. Much like bands such as Lik, Circle of Ouroborus approach black metal in a very distinctive and unique way. The metallic aspects of the genre are almost washed away by the rock orientated material. The opening song, for example, takes very little from black metal but embraces the occult black rock style of bands like Lik, whom I tend to greatly enjoy. The atmosphere of the band is very important, in fact, it may be the most important aspect of their sound. It has a melancholic tinge to it whilst not being afraid to embrace a more catchy, upbeat style of riffing, one which contains a number of repetitive, but melodic hooks, one’s which should perk at least some of the listeners interest. The material isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it is good. I can understand why some might refer to this album as a cult classic due to its strange and rather eerie vocal approach, odd choice of cover (one which, for the most part, works well) and the overall mood altering atmosphere. A highly interesting debut, to say the least and one of the better experimental albums within the sub-genre, one ridden with many untalented musicians posing as geniuses.

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