Moanaa, of Poland, offer listeners a spacious blend of post-metal and sludge which will appeal to plenty of fans with discerning taste for Isis and Pelican inspired undulations, however my first and last thoughts after a multitude of listens to their 2021 release, Embers, in the car while driving, in the home office on stereo while relaxing, and in headphones for dedicated listening have culminated with, "this makes for decent background music." This is really not Moanaa's fault but seems to be some sort of inert attribute of the post-metal experience. Because when I have a difficult time judging or connecting to a release I revert to the standpoint of trying to determine the music's purpose - what it's trying to convey - and what I feel Post-Metal bands offer on the majority of releases is contradictory.
Purpose can be difficult to determine when the promotional copy comes with no lyrical content or subject matter to connect with. The cover depiction is either an exceptionally large bird in a regular sized coffin, a regular sized bird in an exceptionally small coffin, or a bird encased in amber but poorly represented. I am leaning towards the second of those options. Moanaa doesn't strike me as a band who would enlarge a bird in a comic fashion to fit into a regular sized coffin; Post-Metal bands have always come across to me as retaining a particular zeal for seriousness and supposed "artistic enlightenment". The meaning? Perhaps Moanna is trying to show that something small and overlooked in our lives should still be shown reverence and dignity. It is after all birds that protected man in the coal mines from dangerous gasses and it was birds that carried messages distances before we had to shell out exuberant wads of cash to the USPS or FedEx or UPS. Another interpretation: The death of freedom and independence.
But throughout this release these ideas are not represented musically. I don't know how they would be represented musically, to be honest, but I don't feel anything at all listening to this album in the emotional / intellectual sense. In fact, my main problem with Post-Metal in general is that musically, there is an incompatibility to it all. It's music that wants to be heavy with big chugging mathematical precision but simultaneously washes it all in reverb and flange and echo. So angularity is eroded through effects to the point where the tones are awash in softness and comfort. This is why it makes such excellent background music - it simply melts into the air in this wispy cotton-candyesque fashion. Even when the musicianship is excellent, such as in Moanaa's case, it is lost as everything falls into the background. Once again, the purpose is confused. Without lyrical content to narrate, transitions from feathery movements to the wooden palm muted chugging make little sense.
Embers offers little in the way of emotional power and variety. In particular there is not enough range melodically. After opener "Nothing" and follow-up track "Lie", you could essentially put the record away and you would not have missed a melodic movement. More differentiation between the tracks would help bring the overall product to the foreground in my attention. The musicianship is very good and you do feel that the band as a whole was very involved together in assembling this record. The songs are paced well on the record - evidence of a lot of time spent fine-tuning their final product. I particularly liked focusing in on bassist Lukasz Tomiczek's parts which are noticeable and a major element in the song's movements. He pairs well with drummer Kamil Gebala's reserved yet creative percussion. Moanaa offer some interesting time signatures in "Triad", a song which I believe is written in 3/4, as well as "Lie" which itself seems to fall into 6/8. Songs escaping the 4/4 meter helps Embers sound fresh and vibrant rhythmically. Vocalist K-Vass has a solid growl and is adequate for his responsibilities. Guitarists Lukasz Kursa and Maciej Kosarz show a swath of techniques throughout but their playing is delicate, even during the heaviest moments of the record, which once again hearkens to how at odds the genre is to me.
If there was a song here that comes close to completely dissolving the two immiscible elements of echoing reverb and chugging angularity "Inflexion" would be the track to study. Opening with a quick transition from reverb-laden clean guitars to a verse section highlighted with Gebala's signature percussion and the lignified guitar tone of the album's heavier passages, the rest of the track ebbs between softer and harsher. The song has a general sense of surrender and catharsis; the spacey yet hard-edged tone a representation of the hardship of letting go and the weightlessness of unburdening oneself. I also do like "Embers", the title track and it's inventive use of rhythmic motifs such as in the intro with the snare following the kick for a simple yet unique opening drum pattern. The snare follows the kick drum percussively throughout the rest of the track.
Ultimately, Moanaa's Embers is a very good serviceable Post-Metal record for fans of the genre and I would recommend it for people that seek their treasure in it's trove - it may offer them something that it doesn't offer me. Aside from further reinforcing my feelings about certain elements of the genre, I can't say that I didn't enjoy the music. Moanaa do show a lot of creative ideas and witty songwriting ideas throughout the album which are interesting from an objective musical standpoint. For those early morning rides to work, the album was a soothing precursor to the often intense work-day, with it's soft atmosphere reflecting the mist rolling across Monmouth Battlefield and Tenant Cemetery. I can see myself coming back and listening again to this. Even after all the time spent on it, there is still more here to find interesting and listen for - something that can't be said for a lot of other records.