Wednesday 8 December 2021

Laufgast - Roots for Spears (2021)

Country: Israel
Style: Progressive Black Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 16 Oct 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

Here's something really interesting. From what I can tell, Laufgast is another one man project, of an Israeli gentleman named Asaf Levy, who plays every instrument on this progressive black metal album. However, there are no fewer than five guest vocalists, exactly none of whom appear to be Israeli or indeed vocalists, at least not primarily. Chris Bone does sing with Forged in Black, who I reviewed in 2019, and a few other British bands, but he doesn't sing lead; he's primarily known as their guitarist. Similarly, I'd call Norwegians Kristian Brynjulfsen and Kine-Lise Madsen Skjeldal respectively the bass player in the thrash band Psykopath and the keyboardist in the symphonic black metal outfit Cretura.

And, to be fair, even though this is definitely prog and, eventually black metal, it wanders all over the musical map and those vocalists aren't all singing. Some of them are merely lending voices in conversational or dramatic speaking fashion, as they do from the very start of the album, though they mostly do so in what I presume is Norwegian, so I haven't any idea what they're saying. That lends this album an unusual feel from the outset, and that only increases as we move through an array of genres, initially prog rock, then black metal and eventually world music, with some neat backing vocals.

This opening track is called Mortality in Solace and it runs for only a breath under eleven minutes, so there's plenty of opportunity for musical shifts. There are so many of these that it's difficult to track and many of my favourites are difficult to fit into a single bucket. That world music section, for instance, which unfolds in the minute from 4:14, unfolds against a backdrop of tribal drumming but moves from deep male Norse chanting that just reaches a low drone to a characterful female wail that sounds a lot like Eastern European choral music. And it's bookended by black metal.

There are only three songs on offer, the title track lasting fifteen minutes and the album over half an hour. I can only assume that there's a complex story being woven through these pieces of music and the voices serve as characters or at least provide background to what's going on. Without the lyric sheet, though, I'm lost. It's music to me, without story, and that makes it fascinating but also elusive. I don't know why the musical shifts are happening, but I can hear that, when they do, they shift the tone of the piece considerably, making it hard to picture a song like Mortality in Solace at a high level. I enjoyed this very much in the moment but find myself remembering sections rather than songs.

What's interesting to me is that most of those memorable sections are slow ones, like that world music section in Mortality in Solace. It returns five minutes into Roots for Spears, underlining how this feels like a single half hour piece of music rather than three different songs, but there are a few others too. There's a mildly similar section in Earthbed that stages a more restrained wail in the background behind a speaking female voice and a lively metal beat, while a guitar explores wherever the characters happen to be.

Often with complex music like this that unfolds in many changes over a few long pieces of music, I find myself subconsciously translating the audio into visuals and that helps ground it all for me. I may not see what the composers or musicians saw, but I do see something and what I see helps to shape my understanding of the music. I rarely saw anything here and, when I did, it was in one of those quieter sections. Those world music bits were inside a cave to me, not entirely covered like the cover art but only mostly so with some light shining in from outside. There's also a mediaeval section a few minutes later in the title track that adds flutes, even if it grows into a very pleasant electric guitar solo. I was outdoors for that section hanging out with peasants with trees around.

This is hardly commercial music. It's black metal, for a start, but it's far from only black metal and any story being told is almost deliberately obscured by the choice of language. So this becomes a pure musical experience and it's a hard one to interpret. Ambitious listeners will definitely find it worthy of exploration, because it's well performed and always ready to surprise, but it's not likely to reach much of an audience beyond that. Which is fine. I just hope it finds enough listeners that Asaf Levy can return to this project for a second album, one that I can visualise better.

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