Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Emanation - One Soul, One Body, One Spirit

You stand in a musky room lit only by candles and patiently form a circle with your peers around the old wooden table. As you wait for the spirits to speak to you, what do you hear? Faint cries, children playing in an empty gym or underground veterinary hospital, electric buzzing, and distant rumbles and clicks. A loud knock startles you.

Emanation uses these very sounds as a way of showcasing their spiritism theme, a theme that is so prominent that despite pacing concerns, we hear mostly these sounds for the first ten whole minutes of this release. With a ghastly wail, the song then breaks into droning tremolo picked guitars and we later often hear a kick drum so loud and powerful that it makes you feel like your eardrums were located on top of your pounding heart. Even when introducing traditional metal instruments, the band keeps the same ghosty mood by using echo and repetition to distort the sound nearly beyond recognition. Vocals, guitars, and percussion all melt together in a indiscernible vapor where even melody and rhythm are hard to identify. For listeners that are into ambient moody, hypnotic, and repetitive music this is good news - for everyone else, the band has a serious pacing problem. Those first ten minutes of noises may seem like a bold decision, but they pale in comparison to the fact that the first track clocks in at a staggering Wagnerian 44 minutes in length. Even beyond the first track, the entire work can be viewed as “One Soul, One Body, One Spirit,” and one song. Since the music is so neutral, this is a test of attention span rather than patience.

As a recurring theme, the long ambient sections serve to break up “One Soul, One Body, One Spirit” into chunks of relative noise or silence while generating a creepy atmosphere. Unlike the many bands that toy with spooky ambiences, Emanation manages to make them quite palatable by incorporating layers of sounds that create a realistic feeling of silence. In the real world, when things get quiet there is are often still many different sounds vying for attention. This prevents things from becoming flat and the band maintains a faint sense melodies by peppering in slow forlorn synths. These slight touches can also be heard in how the band uses almost imperceptibly quiet tones and ringing as a foundation for their samples. Each droning tone helps tie one rumbling to another and notes become individually unimportant as they are enveloped by the wall of sound. Emanation has an abundance of mood and a strong sense for how to be simultaneously quiet and still musical. 

With the heavy sections, soaring high notes act almost like feedback on top of the droning tremolo picked wall of sound. The guitar tones are fuzzy and crackling, creating a seamless and static-like blend that immediately recalls the distant and haunting electrical noises from the quieter parts. The meditative feel is more enveloping with layers of textures. During the metal bits, the band often creates such layers by having a single droning tremolo picked note while other melodic lines weave toward and away from that note. In much of the music guitar-like buzzing acts as a second melody on top the more normal notes. Even the vocals sit in the background and the tortured wailing acts as another layer of sound. At times, this approach feels conceptually more interesting than the execution. This is due to Emanation's habit of stretching out ideas, which is most likely intentional. Another seemingly deliberate and unusual part of the music is how the drums are sloppy and disorganized in a natural way. Abrupt, yet driving and never jarring because of the support from the noisy guitar's enveloping wall of sound.

The effect of “One Soul, One Body, One Spirit's” homogeneity however is surprisingly neutral, the band does not need the repetition but it doesn't harm the music in a significant way. The band envelopes the listener in a way that is compelling yet far from exciting. This is clear because even after around an hour and a half of music no particular section sticks out as memorable yet the experience is never tiresome. For example, a soft and high pitched piano or bell rings consistently serve to make the quiet sections an overall pleasant although redundant experience. In a sense, this is extraordinarily impressive given how often the band returns to the same musical idea without ever exhausting it. This droning makes the release almost like a one-riff or even riffless “Filosofem.” A hypnotic atmosphere and careful musical layering will however only take a band so far, which leaves this release rather flawed but still enjoyable.  Music for long-distance runners into black metal, redundant yet pleasurable music for repetitive time intensive activities.

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