Wednesday 26 February 2020

Elcrost - Benighted & Unrequited (2020)

Country: Vietnam
Style: Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 13 Feb 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

I initially took a look at Elcrost because they play black metal in Vietnam, which is something new to me. However, the more I looked, the more I found myself diving into a rabbit hole. Everything at Apocalypse Later is grounded in discovery and I love bands who don't just impress me with their own music but introduce me to other bands in the process. Elcrost clearly craft their songs because they're exercises in contrast as overt as the black and white cover art on their releases, which are gorgeous (the artist is Raven-HD-Maverick). Even their logo is elegant.

Part of the reason that they're so interesting is because their influences are so diverse and that's clear from the top ten lists each band member put up on Elcrost's Facebook page of their favourite albums of 2019. I believe I've reviewed about half of them, but I'm enjoying exploring what I haven't heard (or heard of). There's black metal there, of course, but it's unusual black metal, bands like Alcest, White Ward and the Waste of Space Orchestra. Apparently I need to check out Véhémence and Cân Bardd.

More of it is prog or post-rock or metal, which is telling. Some such bands are well known, from Opeth and Wilderun to Leprous and Soen, but many aren't and I'm eagerly exploring the more obscure ones, like The Woods, Thank You Scientist and Drenge. The list also includes enticing pop music: electropop (Aurora), indie pop (Ngọt) and synthpop (Meadow Lane Park). Then there are more genre-defying bands like Concept Unification ("electronic/gothic/doom metal") and Lunar Haze ("avant garde/experimental classical/progressive"). I just spent a Sunday morning wandering through all this on YouTube and I feel enriched for the process. Thank you, Elcrost.

But back to their own music. There are six tracks here, on what I presume is their debut album and they're all immersive, from the woodland footsteps and circling crows that open up proceedings with The Derelict Piece of My Heart Lies Deep Beneath the Forest, as elegaic a title for a musical poem as I've heard in a long time. What follows is a peaceful but warm guitar duet, one finding a hypnotic groove and the other punctuating it as if eager to be heard. A part has that second guitar squeak and squeal as it changes notes and I'd usually see that as a negative aspect but it seems very deliberate, almost birdlike, because it doesn't last into the next section.

The Worm is where we launch into black metal and it sounds great, if muted a little. I had to turn this up further than usual to make it pop and I think the reason it never fully does is because Elcrost have no drummer and their drum machine sounds like it's performing inside a box that's suppressing its sound. The balance between instruments is fine and the spotlight moves well from vocals (both harsh and clean) to guitar (searing out of the background like a phoenix taking flight) and even bass (which gets a surprising subdued lead slot).

Everything is controlled. The pace seems comfortable, even when it ramps up, and the harsh vocals, while harsh enough for any black metal fan, are slower and more deliberate, more enunciated than I'm used to hearing. It also means that everything is contrast: harsh and clean, intense and ambient, fast and slow. Ox Blood starts out with a shriek but it's a nine minute song so we're always going to slow down at some point. That happens almost exactly halfway with a gorgeous transition to soft piano and acoustic guitar. We go back and forth once more before the song is done, ending on a rhythmic guitar.

Oddly, the album title comes from a song that doesn't go black metal at all, called Forevermore. It combines clean male and clean female voices with the harsh male hovering creepily behind to give a sort of goth/black/folk feel. Each song seems to flow into the next and the complexity only builds as the album runs on, the fantastic final eight minute track, The Mountain of Eternal Winter, easily containing the most shifts in tempo and style.

I liked this a lot, albeit more for its peaceful parts than its black metal. A drummer or a better mix for the drum machine may make all the difference there because Elcrost never stop being interesting, whatever style they work in. Unfortunately, this is all there is at this point, because the only two releases prior to this were singles that are included on this album. I want more and I want more of their diverse recommendations too.

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