Time Machine Review: Ebonylake – In Swathes of Brooding Light (UK, 2011)

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Do you like ugly?  Are you drawn to the dark and grim, but inured to the predictable ways it arises in more traditional forms of metal?  Is dissonance not merely a crucial contrast to harmony, but also something to befriend and welcome into your house for afternoon tea even as it baffles you with foreign tongues and tracks dirt onto the carpet of your soul?  Then there might be something in Ebonylake’s second full-length for you.

It is best not to approach their music as that of a metal band, despite the regular presence of coarsely distorted guitar, thundering drums, harsh vocals, and unremarkable bass guitar (I’m pretty sure it’s there…).  Often times, another instrument or three such as a violin section, piano, or harpsichord vies for equal attention with a distinct part, and it is this chaotic layering of parts that creates a deliciously unsettling experience.  Songs sometimes risk sounding as if the individual voices they are comprised of were written with absolutely no consideration for the others playing alongside it (most obvious in the organ/guitar clash near the end of “Within Deepest Red”), but the entire album is so convincingly rooted in never indulging the ear’s natural expectations for long, that you might find yourself overlooking that fact.  Even when dissonance isn’t up front and center, the various elements often don’t accompany each other so much as they fight each other for space in the cavernous confines of the soundscape.

Atonal violin slides, almost violent pizzicato and staccato strings, creepy chimes, droning horns, deliberately off-tempo motifs, ringing guitar chords, and several male and female voices portraying varying degrees of mania are used to immense effect in creating an atmosphere of dread that hangs over a foundation prone to blastbeats and other high-energy rhythms.  However, there are moments of relative majesty, where the foaming tide rolls back to reveal an impression of more normal music.  Parts of “I Painted The Suicide Of Neptune” would not sound out of place as a slower passage in a more straightforward black metal song.  An acoustic section in “Licking at the Nesting’s of Young Fledglings” exudes an uncanny calm through slightly detuned guitar and trickles of atonal piano, before a violin crescendo reintroduces the metal section playing under the ravings of an unhinged madman.

Unfortunately, with a running time of nearly 66 minutes, the album drags on a little too long, ironically due its attempt to balance the maddening chaos with stripped-down sections emphasizing more traditional death metal riffage.  I contend that after the grand excess that is the first six tracks, the ear simply cannot be satisfied with a standard metal rhythm section playing dry and aimless riffs that, on their own, just sound a bit quirky.  Maybe a track reordering would have made an improvement.  Ultimately though, these parts are just not too compelling, which is a shame because even the songs that suffer from this issue the most have their moments.  The avant-garde black metal stylings featured in the first half of the album are certainly the forte of Ebonylake’s metal side; the second half falls a bit flat.

Overall, “In Swathes of Brooding Light” is an obscure, demanding record that will drain you on initial listens before you are rewarded with an appreciation for it.  It isn’t without its flaws, but it is sure to be worthwhile if you’ve ever believed in the supremacy of dark and sinister music, metal or otherwise.


Tracklist:

  1. And from the Seas the Sickening Things
  2. I Painted the Suicide of Neptune
  3. The Curious Cave of Deformities
  4. In Swathes of Brooding Light Skeletal Birds Scratch at Broken Windows
  5. Human Mannequin Puppeteer
  6. Licking at the Nesting’s of Young Fledglings
  7. Amethyst Lung Concerto
  8. Within Deepest Red (The Opening of..)
  9. The Theory of Sexual Carvings
  10. A Voice in the Piano

Label: Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions
Websites: Facebook | Bandcamp
Release Date: 8th October 2011
Reviewed by Justin

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