Over the course of the last fifteen years, Belgian outfit Amenra has been steadily amassing one of the most devastating discographies in all of metal. Yet for some reason, the band has largely flown under the radar for much of their existence. Signing to Neurot Recordings for their 2012’s Mass V helped raised their profile, as did their support slot on this past summer’s Neurosis/Converge tour, but I’d wager that the average metal fan is more familiar with some of the other bands the members are involved with, like Oathbreaker and Wiegedood, than they are with Amenra.
I’d like to say that the forthcoming Mass VI will help catapult the band to the wider recognition they so thoroughly deserve, but I don’t know if that will be the case. And I don’t say that because the album is one of the lesser entries in their discography. In fact, the exact opposite is true – it may well be the best thing I’ve ever heard from the band. However, because of the challenging nature of their music and the amount of patience their albums require from the listener as they unfold, I fear they’re destined to always be a niche band. Perhaps that’s ultimately for the best, because while they certainly hit some of the same markers as other bands that broadly play the same post-metal/atmospheric sludge/doom hybrid as they do—like the aforementioned Neurosis, Cult of Luna, and Year of No Light—they’re ultimately a band whose music neatly slot in anywhere. A lot of bands may claim to write music only for the sake of pleasing themselves, but Amenra is one of only a handful of instances where I actually believe it.
On Mass VI, Amenra’s music takes on a character that I don’t recall from 2012’s Mass V: fragility. Whereas on past releases their modus operandi seemed to be attempting to very slowly bludgeon the listener into submission, they spend just as much (if not more) time on the new album striving to leave the listener emotionally unsettled as well. Long passages of distortion-free guitars and surprisingly expressive cleans from vocalist Colin H. Van Eeckhout give the album a kind of depth listeners likely haven’t heard before from the band. Ultimately, this works to accomplish two things. First, these unfamiliar textures introduce a welcome new variable to the band’s already dynamic songwriting approach. Secondly, by painting with something aside from varying shades of heavy, those heavy parts end up taking on more of a cathartic note by contrast.
I realize that to this point I’ve been talking primarily in broad terms, but this is one of those albums that ebbs and flows so effectively over the course of its 41-minute run time that one should really listen to the album as a single, continuous piece of music instead of individual tracks. However, I also realize what a total copout that sounds like, so consider he song “Plus Pres De Toi,” which serves as a perfect example of these unfamiliar textures. For its first several minutes, it unfolds the way anyone who’s ever listened to the band would expect: heavy, atmospheric riffing and tortured screams. However, once they hit the part of the track where they allow the heavier riffs a bit more room to breathe, instead of coming out of it by cranking the intensity back up, the grind things to a complete halt. A single, sparse guitar line, a lone cymbal struck in 4/4 time, and a plaintive vocal carry the next several minutes before they finally bring back the heavier riffs for the songs emotionally draining closing section.
So while I don’t know how longtime Amenra fans will react to the more somber, expressionistic aspects of Mass VI, I find that they add a sense of variety to the arrangements that I didn’t realize was missing until it appeared. Listeners who were turned off by the band’s previous albums might find something to appreciate here as well, since I think the record as a whole requires a bit less patience to get into than some of their previous outings. For the uninitiated, I’m not sure if it has many more entry points than their back catalog, but I’d still recommend giving it a chance all the same.
Mass VI will be available on October 20 via Neurot Recordings.