Sunday, April 1, 2018

Thanatomania - Resignation

Thanatomania, a black metal band from Germany, take their band name from psychology; thanatomania is the fear of dying or the fear of the inevitability of dying. Their take on black metal has remained staunchly in the hands of songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist M.S and, as will be seen, is a detrimental factor in leading Thanatomania forward musically. Their debut demo, Mykonismus, was neatly presented and contemporary in 2013 to the popular bands of the time; Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch, etc. The style follows closely, with moments of harsher elements mixed in, but rarely intense enough to deliver more than a glancing blow. The material was a bit drawn out and over-thought as often transitions felt forcefully inserted to extend the two songs, instead of naturally placed to connect elements and events. The first track, "Mykonismus I" suffered heavily from this. Drangsal was in some ways a step forward, but only due to it's more refined structure and composition. Few, if any, new elements were added to the material.

Thanatomania - Mykonismus Demo
The 2016 EP was more up front, and more aggressive sonically. With more distorted sections and even some dare-say-I punk drum beats in the release's second and third movements, there was a shift towards what a band like Taake have done recently stylistically. Yet Thanatomania have, unfortunately, retained the agrarian melodic movements of the US West Coast and post-black French bands, producing a mostly weepy sounding EP here as well. There was, at times, promise shown. With shorter songs, final track, "Drangsal III"  culminated in the project's strongest approximation to what I like to hear in my black metal: aggression, melodic-narrative, atmosphere, and tortured/tormented vocals. While opening with a couple minutes of the band's expected coffee-house black metal, the final half showed stylistically that Thanatomania could compete with their more aggressive peers such as Drudkh or New Jersey locals Woe, if not surpass.

With these two recordings providing a stylistic background, Resignation is this year's effort from the band and shows a band still on the move to pitch their own claim. There are hints of these earlier influences in the sound, however an overwhelming shift away from the Cascadian influence and more towards the experimentation and bitterness of the European scene is noticeable in the inclusion of many segments of extensive ringing notes. It seems the missing link for Thanatomania is still the aggressive Norse influences or the grimness of the Eastern front bands. The result sounds like a traipse through a spring meadow as opposed to trudging through the deep winter forests. Resignation is in many moments still upbeat and positive melodically which presses the listener to decide if Thanatomania's black metal is better served for specific times when moods are bright. This, to me, is a detriment. The music should define the mood in black metal; Thanatomania do not transport me to any specific place; I am not altered in mind and body through these songs.

The album's opening intro is a calming and peaceful doll drum of drawn out clean guitars which function as a predecessor to Resignation's second track, "Resignation II." The intro here is titled "Resignation I," and once you reach third track, "Resignation III," you start to wonder at the reasoning behind such manner of song titling on a full length. With no specific descriptions or reasoning this manner of titling comes across as lazy to me. I would like to see actual song titles. Even something like, "Resignation II: Another More-Or-Less Upbeat Black Metal Song" would serve a purpose. M.S. said that the German lyrics are hard to follow and understand for many but does that necessitate someone at least trying to interpret them? "Resignation III" is the first time in which the album comes across aggressively with a much faster opening riff melody which is noticeably angrier than the melodies encountered previously. This is the closest the band has come to sounding like a full fledged black metal band. Unfortunately Thanatomania here fail to carry this energy to the end instead opting to insert a derivative strummed chord to culminate. With "IV" opening once again with force, it highlights how this drop-off negatively affects the pacing of the record. The album's fifth track (guess the name and you get an award) is the most unique rhythmically on the record at times reminding me of more modern experimental Black Metal groups.

"IV" is Resignation's most defining track with very little competition. Not only are we given a fatalist melody to work with from the beginning, even the moments where the song changes pace and transitions offer just a little more melancholy or solemnity than previous songs. The song truly revolves around a slower central element not unlike the dirgier tracks Drudkh presented on Blood In Our Wells such as "Furrows of the Gods" or "Solitude". The shift is done perfectly and the contrasting melodies makes this singular moment the most narrative and developed moment of the album. It is like waking through a door into a new room, a vision seamlessly changing. The track reattempts full speed again to close but as it draws forward the opening riff with no variation and no change to melody or rhythm, the song ends up being a typical rock song in structure and not the tale it could have been.

"IV" also shows the band for where it truly is on a musicianship basis. M.S.'s vocals are decent, adequately screeching his way through the album and occasionally squatting out something lower in tone but his guitar playing is the definitive focus overall for the band. As he is the band's main songwriter it is the only interesting element to listen to and still comes across as predictable. I wonder at how much say the rest of the members have in the songwriting process. B.L.'s drumming is competent but never adds to the songs in a rhythmic way. He lays the foundation adequately but essentially acts as a metronome for the band instead of rhythmically encouraging M.S. or A.K. to shift beyond the melodies and engage with the percussion on an individual level. A.K.'s bass playing offers little beyond a repetition of the underlying melody and is a wasted element. There are no additional fills and no attempt to imbue the tracks with subtle nuance or interest. It is the single-most wasted opportunity on the record, particularly because of how prominent the bass is in the mix. With all the instruments revolving around the guitar lines, which are nothing but strummed chord progressions throughout the songs, the album feels flat and shallow.

Thanatomania - Drangsal EP
Thanatomania have not yet mastered the ability to craft inspired melodic movements in their music or understand the importance of the rhythm section. The lack of narration and story which should be conveyed melodically is not yet apparent and the urgency which would drive the band forward is lost in the lack of rhythmic experimentation. Titles would help, as would some additional musical elements to carry the material forward. Resignation lacks overlying harmonies, melodic movements, and further dynamic elements. At times Thanatomania sound incomplete. For a full length to be this bare yet attempt to be this mature raises conflicting feelings in me. It's clear that the band wants to convey a story and a more heady experience than a more primitive band so while these three releases are a good indication of where the band will head musically, they are also indicative of a band that has not yet truly managed to determine what makes their music necessary listening. Perhaps the next release will be more complete, more nuanced, more melodically varied, and give a better impression of who Thanatomania are meant to be and who they could become.

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