Azoic – Gateways (Self-released, 20 June 2012)
Hello readers! Since it’s been 90-whatever degrees here in Pittsburgh lately, and I’ve been sweating my ass off, sometimes it’s nice to think about people who live in other parts of the world, where it isn’t so infernally hot and humid this time of year. Now I’ll admit, I don’t really know that much about the climate in Iceland, but c’mon! They’ve got “ice” in their name! Even just thinking about that makes me feel better.
I don’t know what the weather is like wherever you are right now, Dear Reader, but in any case, wouldn’t your week start out a lot better if you had some new, FREE music to listen to?
Yeah, I thought so. I can help you out with that.
A short while ago, I was contacted by a nice Icelandic gentleman, who kindly pointed me in the direction of the band Azoic. Right around the same time, our friend Ben who maintains the Church of the Riff blog also contacted me, mentioning that I should check out this great band. If that wasn’t already enough, right after that I discovered that Phro, who writes short fiction on his own blog PhroMetal, had written about this same band in a guest post over on No Clean Singing!
Well with that many endorsements, I became really curious and had to check these guys out for myself. I’m glad I did, and I think you will be too. Late last month they announced that they were releasing the album to be freely downloadable, so keep on reading and I’ll tell you where to get it.
The first time I listened to Gateways, my immediate reaction was, wow, that was some really dense black metal! I mean, with some of its trademark sounds — such as the higher-pitched guitar parts, the shrieky, raspy vocals, and the typically lo-fi recording quality — a lot of traditional black metal music can sound a bit thin and fragile, or even airy and hollow sometimes. I didn’t get that feeling here at all; instead, I felt like the band had assaulted my ears from start to finish with a wall of sound — a wall built from massively heavy stones and bricks, and then packed solid with mortar.
Naturally I listened to it again — several more times, in fact — but not immediately. There are certain genres or styles that lend themselves to listening on repeat, usually lighter or less substantial music, but this is the sort of experience where it really feels like it takes a lot out of you; on reaching the end you need to take some time to reflect and, basically, to catch your breath. But anyway, I did to it for a second, third, and subsequent times, and as I did, more and more layers of the music began to emerge. What looked (or sounded) like a huge, solid wall from a distance, actually turned out to have plenty of interesting colors and patterns underneath.
Although the primary structure is composed of densely laid bricks of black metal, things change up a bit with more of a death metal style in the vocals, adding some textural variation. In addition, a closer inspection revealed some fragments of melody here and there, like little mosaics of tile and broken glass, hidden among the larger blocks. Very dark and grotesque mosaics, which don’t really add beauty and ornateness so much as they serve to highlight the ugliness and dreadfulness of their surroundings.
(I feel like the “wall of sound” metaphor is really starting to lose traction, but I’m just going to keep running with it anyhow.) In a way, I’d say this is like poking around in an ancient gothic cathedral — there are plenty of dark corners and alcoves, and what appears to be a massive stone structure on the surface, turns out to contain more and more tiny details if you care to explore further. Perhaps what keeps bringing these images to mind — besides the enormous depth of sound created by the composite of all the various parts, and the thick reverb that gets employed throughout — is the stacked layers of additional vocals that are inserted occasionally in between the guitars and bass. These cleaner voices (aside from the growled main vocal part) are very melancholic and dark, and often remind me of some sort of ritualistic chanting. In particular, the brief interlude track “Hold Bindur Tómið” seems to have a druidic atmosphere.
Speaking of atmosphere, closing track “Eldlína” is another relatively short song, which is built primarily upon some extremely bass-heavy synth chords — resembling the extreme low register of a gigantic pipe organ, then layered with agonizing wails that sound like the laments of the damned as they are descending into the pits of hell. Considering the volcanic nature of the island, and the folklore surrounding some of its geographic features, I think it becomes pretty apparent where exactly these Gateways will lead…
Preview the album here:
Check out one of the album’s songs, “Monasterium,” here:
Download the full album for free here.