Cascadian Dross With Specks of Gold
The three albums I've reviewed so far were chosen based on my appreciation of them and the belief that their obscurity was undeserved; the challenge in their assessment hasn't been so much to point out the flaws as it was to articulate their unicity, of which I was already fully convinced long beforehand. Enthauptung's Adirondack, on the other hand, was laid in my hands as part of a Christmas review swap: I had no earlier knowledge of them, and would probably not have encountered them were it not for my fellow Archiver HeWhoIsInTheWater – cheers to you!
The non-musical aspects of a release should not have an impact on its final appreciation – look only to Brulvahnatu's Menstrual Extraction Ceremony to hammer home why one should judge neither book nor album by their covers – but Adirondack's façade made me skeptical from the onset. A blurry shot of (what I'm guessing is) a nocturnal grove with the RGBY-values tinkered with, the German word for 'decapitation' in a black-and-white logo styled as roots integrated rather lazily on top, and the album title itself in a fashionable spaced-out post-black-ish designer font: the message I'm getting here is that Enthauptung is more than a bit confused as to what they want to be playing and how they want it represented, because of lack of either inspiration or focus. Either way, it lacks vision.
With that in mind, three-minute inro “Earth Divider” and its bird samples, accretive layers of warbling guitars and climax-oriented song structure seemed designed to take away my apprehension with regards to the album being scatterbrained: this is cascadian black metal, without frills or experimental tendencies. Ash Borer and especially Fell Voices are some of my most beloved modern acts, so don't take me for a cascadophobe, but if a band plans to play in a style that's both inherently formulaic and long overcrowded they'd better bring some fresh ideas to the table – and it is here that Enthauptung falls short. “Earth Divider” is strong enough, and follow-up “Summoning Ancients” starts out with a hard-hitting tremolo riff and the sort of driving drumming that evokes images of hunting dogs whose leashes they sense are just about to come off, but after that initial peak the song quickly loses itself in mindless blasting and unconvincing, indistinct guitar work. As opposed to the bands mentioned earlier – alongside others more on the post-spectrum, like Altar of Plagues and Vattnet Viskar – the different movements in Adirondack don't flow over into one another but exist as monadic entities, independent and wholly interchangeable, and neither do they get the time or opportunity to develop – as if Enthauptung doesn't trust any single individual riff section to keep the audience's attention, so you're quickly redirected to a new one.
Adirondack's production is another victim of sub-par judgement. While the guitars sound fine – a tad grainy, and they drown out the bass, but such dense layering is a perfectly valid choice given the genre – the drums and vocals are actively hurt by it. Percussion is high-ish in the mix, always clear but also strangely sterile and lifeless – triggered, presumably? They remind me of Nagelfar's Srontgorrth in the way they're kept distinct from the rest of the instrumentation, but the Germans justified this by way of von Meilenwald's phenomenal and creative drumming, which deserves to predominate – the only thing Enthauptung achieves by shoving the percussion to the front is making the listener astutely aware of how boring the dry THWOCK-THWOCK-THWOCK that constitutes blast sections is. The most egregious boil on the face of Adirondack, however, takes the shape of Daniel Drexel's singing. USBM tunnel-shouting is an established trope, true, but this isn't so much a case of lo-fi aesthetics as it is of the vocalist having come late to the recording studio, being locked out, and having had to scream his lines from an adjacent room. The result is a constant monotonous, undynamic background wailing that's always dialed up to 110% concentrated cat-in-process-of-castration anger, regardless of the current tonal mood, and actively detracts from the efforts of the rest of the band. I honestly fail to see what the band was going for with his performance – its inclusion feels more like an arbitrary concession to genre norms than a thought-out contribution.
But not everything in Adirondack is gloom: while I don't feel any of the songs (other than the intro and interlude) work as a whole, some of them contain genuinely rousing sequences. Take the rather cool, varied riffcraft just before “Summoning Ancient”'s third-minute mark, or the misty synths that haunt the doom crawl a few minutes later, bringing to mind Lunar Aurora's Hoagascht – never a bad thing. The warbling, weirdly spectral protuberances at the lead guitar's fringe throughout that same song are something I seldom heard before and probably the most defining feature of the release, and give an album otherwise lacking in personality an edge. Moreover, the titular “Adirondack” features a magnificent break-and-buildup between 4:00 and 6:30 that smacks of promise – presumably helped by the absence of vocals, but, all cynicism aside, it was this sequence that convinced me the band has true potential. How to unlock this? I'm not sure, but ditching the adherence to the formulaic cascadian structure and going for shorter, more focused songs would eliminate a lot of useless fluff, while re-thinking the role of vocals could only help. As it stands, Adirondack is a basket of LEGO bricks that's fallen over, gotten mixed up with Megabloks and arranged to make a house that's already been built far too often. The aggression, speed and technical skill are here – what it's missing is vision, personality and coherence.