Review in SSMT
Hooh boy, now THIS is evil. Anyone who thinks that "true" black metal is dark, should seriously take a look at The Umbersun, an album that might very well constitute one of the vilest, darkest pieces of music ever written. A friend of mine once demanded that I remove this album from my car stereo while we drove through the mountains one overcast night. It was simply too much; a total negative sensory overload. He felt drained and sickened by it. Perhaps I should explain the album and its effect in some detail.
This is the third and final chapter in Elend's first trilogy, the Officium Tenebrarum. As explained in my other Elend review, the trilogy is concerned with the fall and descent of Lucifer into Hell (as seen in Milton's Paradise Lost). This final chapter finds Lucifer comfortably (?) in Hell and in a rather introspective mood. According to old band interviews this album represents death, whereas "Les Ténèbres du Dehors" represents rebellion. Fair enough. This album plays like a soundtrack to Dante's Inferno, only less comforting.
The album alternates between two primary compositional styles: the hauntingly gentle and the chaotic, atonal, blaringly loud, serpentine-flames-and-whirlwinds of-hell, total mindfucks. It is the second variety that caused my friend so much anxiety, though the first isn't exactly a day at the circus either. Elend took the old formula and turned up the atonality. Rather than bathe the listener in warm Romantic textures, The Umbersun would rather attack the listener with the dark underbelly of Modernism. Which isn't a bad thing, insofar as the listener doesn't approach the album with a headache. The music still retains much of its ambience, but the ambience is intensely dark and depressing here. There is beauty amid the chaos, but it's the beauty of a ghostly female apparition floating among the tombstones, rather than that of an ascendant angel.
The vocals are still characterized primarily by angelic soprano lines, male whispers, and terrible (terribly cool that is) shrieks. The shrieks are everywhere now, and blast with furious frequency throughout the music's chaotic textures. The soprano vocals here sound far darker (and less sensuous) than before, given the somewhat different context of the music; listen to the soprano work on the Bram Stoker's Dracula soundtrack for an idea. This album features a good-sized choir, and Elend makes good use of it. The choir is best used in creating dissonance: in one part the choir is made to sing in contradictory vocal harmonies and in another, the choir actually screams and shrieks in total disarray!
This album is dark. Really dark. It's aggressive, chaotic and generates a suffocating atmosphere of horror and alienation. Is it any good? It is extremely effective at creating the desired mood. Some would suggest it is too effective. It certainly isn't easy listening; it is not something you simply plop down and listen to with a beer and a bag of chips. I rarely listen to it, but when I do I find myself totally immersed in its aura of discord. It is utterly convincing; there is never a moment when you don't feel the total impact of the music. It effectively communicates the essence of Hell in the Judea-Christian tradition. Is that a recommendation? You be the judge.
Super Fun Tip: Stick it in at a party and watch the contortions on the guests' faces.
Review by James Slone