Album Title: The Darkening Sky
Label: Corrupted Flesh Records
Date of Release: 4 March 2022
Over the past couple of years, I have confronted many of my musical prejudices head-on, with both positive and negative results. I’m now a fully paid-up member of fan clubs for doom metal, post-rock, post-metal, and I’m beginning to rethink my absolute dislike of brass in heavy music. I’m still not a fan, but recent efforts have made me consider that the inclusion of a trumpet or a saxophone (yes, I’m aware this is technically a wind instrument) isn’t always the hideous car crash that I expect it to be. I’d still prefer a guitar, piano, or even a flute instead, but I’m taking baby steps here. Today, I feel brave enough to tackle another of my heavy music bugbears – the deliberately lo-fi production.
There is much to enjoy within the black metal genre, a genre that spans a very wide surface area depending on your personal definition of this music. On the one hand, we have Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. Many may argue that these bands are no longer black metal but that’s a discussion for another day. They offer us a polished, multi-layered, over-the-top sound, full of theatrics and drama. On the other hand, we have what’s considered more ‘trve’, ‘cvlt’ black metal, the music that lurks in the cold, dark woods, often created at the hands of one person, or a small group of musicians that deliberately shun any kind of modernity, or polish to their musical output. To me, a lot of it sounds like it was recorded in a shoe box, creating what I can only describe as a horrible mess of sound; it’s like listening to a wasp trapped in a biscuit tin. As good as the actual compositions might be, the production renders it unlistenable to me a lot of the time. But, have I been missing out? It’s time to find out.
The first album to venture forth in my latest experiment towards self-growth is ‘The Darkening Sky’ from a band called Tundra. Hailing from Italy, I’m unsure as to the current line-up because the promo doesn’t confirm the protagonists, other than provide the press photo that suggests Tundra are now a duo, as opposed to other websites that reference anywhere between two and four musicians.
What the press release does confirm however, is that ‘The Darkening Sky’, Tundra’s fourth full-length release was actually originally released in 2019 and is now being released on vinyl. No CD, just a digital download if you don’t have a record player…which I don’t. So why am I reviewing this album? The answer is simple: it is the first album with a god-awful production that I’ve not immediately found intolerable. For that I felt Tundra deserved a mention on the website. That and the fact that it serves as a good context builder for future reviews.
That said, it won’t be a long review, as I have other releases that I want to squeeze in too. Billed as a band that will appeal to the likes of early Gorgoroth or Marduk, you will already know roughly what to expect if you take a listen to ‘A Darkening Sky’. A near three-minute instrumental intro kicks off the album in classic black metal style. However, far from it being a waste of time, I rather like the simple melody that sounds like it comes from the bass guitar, all the while becoming more and more enveloped by the eerie sounds of synths.
And then all hell breaks loose with the first ‘proper’ track, which also happens to be the title track. The guitar riffs sound like those classic ‘buzzsaw’ riffs that are the preserve of ‘trve’ black metal, the bass is just about non-existent, and the drums are battered to within an inch of their lives, albeit from a distance, so buried at the back of the mix as they are. The vocals are a tortured high-pitched, acidic shriek, and if I’m honest, I’m beginning to regret this latest experiment of mine. And then, from somewhere out of the mud comes a surprisingly pleasant melody, whilst the aggressive attack starts to have a positive effect. Don’t get me wrong, I’d not often pick this off the shelf to listen to, but it’s not as painful as I was expecting. Under all the fuzz and muffled noise, there’s a song there and it isn’t bad.
The same can be said for a handful of the other songs too. ‘Molested’ zips along at a nice pace, with moments of retrained elegance juxtaposed with some punk-like attitude and riffs to match, even a wailing lead guitar solo late on. The mid-section pause for breath features out of tune guitars, possibly deliberately so, alongside some rather cringeworthy pleading, anguished spoken-word cries for help. Who would have thought that I’d prefer the less decipherable heavy parts?
I also like the opening to ‘Ghostwood’, which sounds like it could have come from an early Cradle Of Filth album such is the melodic swagger that begs to be heard through the hiss of the production. And later on, do I hear a vague Iron Maiden vibe in the melodies that emerge from the murk?
However, all that being said, I’m a little grateful that the album only lasts for a smidge over 33 minutes because this is definitely my limit for music that sounds like this. I haven’t completely hated my latest attempt to enjoy a black metal record that features such a poor production, but it hasn’t given me the epiphany that maybe deep down I was hoping for either. In my opinion (and it is just my personal opinion), what could be a decent album is not far off being ruined by a production that doesn’t even try to let the instruments be heard properly. I get that this is intentional, and that it all adds to the dark atmosphere. But I’m a music fan because I like hearing the music; if I can’t, what’s the point?
The Score of Much Metal: 58%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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