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Alan Averill

● Why no new anthems
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Ebony Lake | ‘In Swathes Of Brooding Light’

Older heads may very well remember English eccentrics Ebony Lake. More than a decade ago they put out an album when Cacophonous Records was still releasing five albums a week, gaining attention for its detailed and quirky extreme metal.

Even at a time when brave releases from Solefald and Arcturus were tearing up preconceptions, Ebony Lake were too leftfield. They’re the quintessential ‘difficult’ band.

So it’s with a cocked eyebrow and an eager ear that this new material is received. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson and toned it all down a bit. Instead, they’ve gotten even more inaccessible and obscure.

Opener ‘And From The Seas The Sickeneing Things’ has to be played repeatedly to establish a true tune. It’s a convulsion of synths, plucked strings, piano tinkles and blasting drums, all mixed in the kind of murk that makes casual listening all but impossible.

The album continues like this for a few more tracks, stepping away from the vaguely more death metal aligned feel of their (albeit decade old) debut and moving toward the familiar tonalities of Blut Aus Nord and Xasthur, if more uppety than both.

It all begins to come together when the music finds its stride on ‘In Swathes Of Brooding Light…”. Though another sketch piece, it’s atmospheric, violent and uncomfortable, with a superbly tenebrous feel.

Later, ‘Licking At The Nestings Of Young Fledglings’ again recalls their debut with some gnashing vocal and a chopping, changable attack. It’s one of the more manifestly extreme metal tracks, though still swamped in the Victorian phantasmgoria that hangs around every track.

Oddly, ‘A Voice In The Piano’ sounds like ‘Trinity’-era My Dying Bride in parts. It’s got those great feral vocals and the kind of slower pace from which they’d benefit by using much more. A strange, but appreciated stylistic break.

As interesting and off the wall as this album is, it’s also essential to point out that it is an extraordinarily trying spin. The mix is just plain difficult. They never sit still for a second, and there is rarely room for breath before another strange tangent is taken. It’s just bloody hard.

People say that some albums are made to be enjoyed on headphones. I’d say that about this one too, and then add the fact that it’s the only way you can actually hear what’s even going on. That, and about thirty repeat listens just to get a handle on everything.

I feel that Ebony Lake have shot themselves in the foot. They’re clearly talented and possessed of great ideas. Yet they’ve made choices with this music that militate against getting people into what they do – it’s just sheer bloody minded musical selfishness.

So if you appreciate that kind of artists prerogative, you’ll certainly dig this. If on the other hand you dont quite want to have to negotiate a madcap inventors musical psychosis put to record, its probably best avoided. Certainly one of the most challenging albums of the year – but only in snatches is it rewarding enough to justify being praised more.

2.8 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 10/12/11

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