Embers – Shadows (Self-released, 29 March 2011 / vinyl by Iconoclast Records, 25 May 2012)
Californian blackened-crust band Embers released their debut LP Shadows to much critical acclaim early last year. At that time, it was made available as a free (or pay what you choose) download, and it’s still available that way (more details later), but the band recently announced that the album is finally being made available in a vinyl format for those fans who had been requesting that…
Tomorrow (Friday, 25 May) Embers will be kicking off a two-week European tour, starting in Bologna (see the end of this post for a list of dates). At the same time, they will be releasing Shadows as a 2xLP vinyl edition via the Bolognese label Iconoclast Records.
The album is bookended by ambient instrumental tracks of about a minute-plus each, appropriately named “Drone Intro” and “Outro Drone” — these set the tone for the atmosphere and mood you can expect to complement the primarily black metal sound throughout the record. Otherwise, long format song structures abound, such as in “Eucharist” and “Dreams” which are each around ten minutes in length — as is the bonus track “Awakening” (which, despite containing some of the loudest and heaviest moments to be found here, is also full of slow, melancholy, doominess, and awash with viola, which was played by the late Nine Katechis, who formerly had performed live with the band.)
All of these songs feature clearly black-metal-soaked vocals (which are shared by bassist Kelly Nelson and guitarist Timm Kennedy), and the guitarists (Kennedy, along with Steven DeCaprio) employ traditional black-metal-style riffing and tremolo picking, and all of that sounds very good — the band could have just stuck to those genre standards and constructed a traditional black metal record, and it still would have been an excellent release. But Shadows goes far beyond the ordinary.
One of the main distinctions concerns Jerry Buchanan‘s drum parts. Whereas black metal is normally characterized by sterile, mechanical-sounding drumming — non-stop blastbeats drenched in reverb and oversaturated with the piercing clash of trebly cymbals ringing — what we have here feels quite free and organic. While reverb is still used here, it seems to be for a totally different purpose: instead of creating a feeling of extreme solitude, smothering in its expansiveness, the tone I am getting is one of openness, where the sounds are all given ample room to breathe. Likewise, the playing style seems free and loose — while still fitting perfectly into the context of a metal band, the feeling it gives me is sometimes closer to, say, John Bonham‘s jazzy explorations across the drum kit, than the incessant driving, pounding noise inherent in many black metal recordings.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to take away from the “blackness” of this band or their music. The vocals are consistently terrifying, in their juxtaposition of harsh snarls and deep growls, and all of the songs are overwhelmingly dark and heavy. But touches of nonconformity add to the sense of freshness and uniqueness. Furthermore, ambience and atmosphere are frequently the name of the game here — especially in some of the longer tracks, gloomy breaks offer moments of dark introspection and foreboding mellowness. Pondering over some of these lengthier reprieves from the band’s barrage of pulverizing force leads me to conclude that Shadows would be the result if Earth had ever decided to record a black metal album.
The vinyl edition of the album will be available to buy from Iconoclast (distributed through Agipunk) here. As I mentioned, you can still listen to it (and download it for FREE or whatever price you choose) via Bandcamp:
**Update 09 July 2012** Shadows can also be downloaded for free via Torn Flesh Records, just in case the free downloads at Bandcamp run out (or you prefer not to share your email address before downloading or something). Additionally, the 2xLP version of the album can now be purchased directly from the band — get it at their Bandcamp page — for U.S. customers the shipping is only $5, so you’ll end up saving a bunch by not ordering it from Europe!
Embers May/June 2012 European Tour Schedule
FRI 25 MAY – BOLOGNA IT @ Atlantide
SAT 26 MAY – ILIRSKA BISTRICA SI @ Mknz
SUN 27 MAY – WIEN AT @ EKH
MON 28 MAY – PRAHA CZ @ Na Půl Cesty
TUE 29 MAY – LEIPZIG DE @ Zoro
THU 31 MAY – BERLIN DE @ Koepi
FRI 1 JUN – COPENAGHEN DK @ Dodsmaskinen
SAT 2 JUN – GOTEBORG SE @ Studio Chanslös/Gårdaskolan
SUN 3 JUN – AALBORG DK @ 1000 Fryd
MON 4 JUN – HAMBURG DE @ Rote Flora
WED 6 JUN – LIEGE BE @ Secret Venue
THU 7 JUN – AACHEN DE @ AZ Aachen
FRI 8 JUN – LILLE FR @ ABC Benefit Fest
SAT 9 JUN – WINTERTHUR CH @ GGs31
SUN 10 JUN – MILAN IT @ Villa Vegan Squat