Review – In Cauda Venenum / Heir / Spectrale: Split

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  • Bio: n/a
  • Label: Emanations, Les Acteurs de L'Ombre Productions
  • Release Date: August 18th, 2016
  • Genre: Black Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Emanations Records is a subdivision of the french underground experimental black metal label Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions. This is where we find the brand new split release between relatively fresh acts In Cauda Venenum, Heir, and Spectrale, all hailing from Emanations’ home country. The release brings together the atmospheric to the sludgy across seven tracks, three a piece save for In Cauda Venenum who only gets one due to the track’s length. But will this digisleeve turn newcomers into fans, or will it only turn them off given the placement of the performances themselves?

Yes, this split release does change things up a bit by offering some sort of context to the flow of material, or so it seems. Unlike a traditional split release where each band gets x amount of tracks or time and all performances are lumped together by band, this one shuffles them around in a way that feels as though the goal was to have some sort of concept going into it. Whether that was the actual intent or just a decision to go have one song from each band play then repeat until done, this approach remains a noble attempt to make it stand out, but one that doesn’t really pay off due to the bands picked to adorn the effort. While all three do share some similar traits to make this feel like a full-length with a good amount of variety, some of the contributions both clash and just pale compared to the others.

Take opening track “Sagittarius A” by Spectrale for example. The mixture of beautiful acoustic chords with a nice rumble in the background weaves an astral setting that leaves you floating amongst the stars with a growing burden being placed upon you as the music becomes thicker or distorted dialogue that sounds extra terrestrial kicks in around the minute-and-a-half point. This all concludes with radio static and some classical music lost within it. From here, the group’s folk side begins to show, primarily in “Al Ashfar”. The minstrel-like guitars of the first half weave a scene of a picture perfect sunny day that will instantly warm your heart until the second half rolls on with dire urgency, as if a nightmarish storm suddenly appeared overhead. Finally there’s “Crepuscule” which is more in line with the last half of that song, though a little more on the depressing side at times.

While “Sagittarius A” makes the perfect introduction piece to dive head first into a full-length, the following “Descent” by Heir feels more like an interlude piece than anything that not only kills momentum early, but just isn’t really that good a song. The slow-moving start and raspy growls work hard to create an unsettling atmosphere for just under the first two minutes before kicking in with another brief build for roughly thirty seconds. It all just seems like something you would hear from an alternative metal group (in fact you’ve probably heard the same tactic from many a radio friendly group in the past) that didn’t quite set up expectations well before hammering home some crossover thrash influence to the mix that works a lot better. Sadly, about four minutes in, the solid drums and infectious bass lines give way to slower, somber material that halts things once more, leaving the far more violent mixture of blast beats and grooves towards the end far from memorable as you sit and wait for the amateurish composition to finally reach its end and welcome In Cauda Venenum‘s only contribution to this split.

And this is where the recording really begins to pick up, and not just for the fact that it’s the band’s interpretation of “Laura Palmer’s Theme” by Angelo BadalamentiTwin Peaks television series. Yes this nearly fourteen-and-a-half minute performance does boast a lengthy introduction as well, but the slow build here actually pays off. This atmospheric piece takes its time to weave an emotional presence that suits the earlier astral tone created by Spectrale perfectly thanks in large part to the soft cello at just the right volume level to feel like an accompanying piece instead of the dominant support beam of the structure. There’s a great mixture of passion and aggression on display, the former coming through more during the slower bridges with or without additional elements like an audio sample allowing dialogue to play over what feels like blackened chamber music. Much of the song seems to bend to these whims until the end when the fiery material is joined by said cello for quite the dramatic and powerful climax to a dismal closing.

But, getting back to Heir, while “Descent” is pretty much a deplorable train wreck, the other songs simply aren’t. “Upon the Masses” doesn’t really start out too strong, but as the track is allowed to expand it becomes a solid display of the atmospheric fire their home country has become known for. Cautiously building with slower segments strewn in like moments of inner reflections and eerie realizations, the progression made leads to an explosive climax that just lashes out with blistering drums and furious fretwork that act as the unleashing of the frustrations being pent-up between the bouts of silence, all leading to the moment of clarity that is a sludge break to wrap things up. And finally you have “Sectarism” which, aside the spoken word audio sample played, is about the same as “Upon the Masses” as far as structuring goes, though not quite as good.

All of that said, this is just one weird split due to two major problems. The first is that the tracks are placed about in a way that makes the start seem like the introductory tracks from Heir and Spectrale were put back-to-back instead of allowing each to show off their wares in a way that felt fluid for those short times, something that ultimately does feel detrimental to the recording as a whole while you bounce around from one quality or approach to another and not be allowed the time to soak in what the three acts actually bring to the table. The second is Heir‘s contributions as a whole, which are just not on par with the other two groups. Don’t get me wrong, the last two songs of theirs are still pretty good, but with exception to “Upon the Masses” they just don’t share the same quality or atmosphere, feeling more like mild speed bumps on a beautifully paved aural highway with lavish landscapes highlighted by the cosmos at times. While one must applaud Emanations for trying something different with the track list, the diversity and musical ability between the bands in question simply couldn’t support whatever reason behind the choice, making this split more of a struggle to sit through than it ever should have been.

Digital review copy of this release provided by Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions.