Photograph by Stefaan Temmerman
Release Date: 25th June 2021
Record Label: Relapse Records
For Fans Of: Cult Of Luna, Oathbreaker, Fall Of Efrafa
There is a long lasting history of metal bands painting themselves as a collective of enigmas shrouded in mystery. Whether that be wearing masks, adopting stage names and maintaining anonymity, or even circulating rumours about themselves, we’re all familiar with many acts who use these tactics to create intrigue, all to varying levels of success. Yet despite being maskless, pseudonym-less, and generally rather straight up with their audience, Amenra maintain an aura of impenetrable darkness, adopting the guise of cult-like leaders to their swathe of followers. Their previous releases, each titled Mass I through VI, support this assumed connection to the occult, as does the band’s network of like-minded artists, dubbed ‘The Church of Ra’. Their gloomy, apocalyptic offerings of post-metal suitably matches the aura the band have created, and with each release improving upon the last, Amenra are sure to convert the uninitiated.
The Belgian collective’s latest release is the first to appear outside of their Mass saga, instead titled De Doorn, which translates from Flemish as ‘The Thorn’. The album is also their first release performed entirely in Flemish, whereas previous records had also featured English vocal performances, providing the band with a more personal approach to the cathartic nature of their lyrics. Another first for De Doorn is the addition of Caro Tanghe, vocalist for Oathbreaker (fellow Flanders natives and members of the Church of Ra). Yet despite the many new variables present on their new album, De Doorn should not be seen as a major departure in terms of Amenra’s sound. The lyrical content still deals with pain, rebirth, and the more visceral emotions and moments of one’s life, but whereas the Mass albums were crafted from a personal perspective, De Doorn broadens the horizons, taking influence from the band’s homeland – hence the Flemish lyricism – and the sufferings of others.
With four out of five tracks exceeding the 8 minute mark, these offerings are anything but short, sharp stabs of heaviness. The band conjure murky, dense atmospheres, less inviting an audience to listen but more overwhelming and consuming them with darkness. There is no push and pull of frenetic rhythms, but relentless, hypnotic waves of colossal distorted chords, booming out of the speakers and erasing all light. Layered on top of the instrumental mire are the paired vocals of founding member Colin H. van Eeckhout and new addition Tanghe, the latter providing the perfect counterpoint that we did not know we needed. Both vocalists range from sinister spoken word bordering on barely audible whispers, to blood curdling shrieks that will chill one’s soul. Opening track ‘Ogentroost’ runs the full gamut of Amenra’s sonic arsenal, warning the listener with waves of low end rumbles of the ensuing storm that will batter all those in its way.
Despite the religious connotations and themes of rebirth present in the band’s lyrics, there is no ray of light that penetrates the shadow this album casts. Even when the instruments step back to allow some breathing room, the atmosphere left behind is hardly refreshing, adding to the discomfort with undertones of foreboding threat. Second track ‘De Dood In Bloei’ may be without the driving force of percussion or guitar riffs, ostensibly providing a moment of relaxation, but this simply lures listeners into a false sense of security. The wash of reverb heavy swells would normally be utilised to evoke an ethereal nature; when performed by Amenra, there is nothing angelic at play.
As with many genres, there are certain tropes and cliches that bands can easily fall into, feeling the need to tick boxes to appease audiences. This is far from the case with De Doorn. Despite the lengthy tracks, none of them overstay their welcome. The shifts in dynamics feel so natural despite the vast chasm that lies between their weighty onslaught of noise and their sombre clean guitars. Piercing shrieks are intertwined with clean singing and spoken word, not as a display of light and shade contrast, but simply furthering the intent of the song to make it as accomplished as it can be. And when the vocals step back to allow the instruments to take centre stage, it isn’t seen as an opportunity to boast the instrumentalists’ prowess, but to develop the brooding ambience and offer a moment of reflection for what was just experienced.
Hands down, Amenra have released their most accomplished album to date, which is no mean feat considering the strength of their last few records. De Doorn should be held as a milestone record for cathartic, dark and intense post-metal. The Flemish lyrics force non-speakers to focus on the tone and delivery of the vocals rather than the words themselves, enabling listeners to appreciate the pain and anguish conveyed in van Eeckhout and Tanghe’s screams. The spectrum of the instrumental dynamics is a testament to the band’s songwriting, maintaining intrigue and emotional investment whether one instrument or the whole band are at play.
All this darkness and mystery, and they don’t even have masks on!
‘Ogentroost’, ‘De Evenmens’, ‘Voor Immer’
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