Sunday, December 29, 2013

Album Review: Terra Tenebrosa - The Purging

Album Score: A-
There’s something about three dudes in black capes and demon masks that just never gets old. It really should, but it doesn’t as long as they've got the music to back it up. In stark contrast to Swedish compatriot Ghost’s tongue-in-cheek doctrine, Terra Tenebrosa legitimately gives the creeps with its genre-defying attack and macabre imagery. The trio came together in 2009 from the ashes of post-hardcore outfit Breach and delivered a promising debut, but it’s on their sophomore effort that they’ve laid claim to territory all their own. Full of distorted chants and screams, paranoia-inducing machine noises, and all sorts of other bizarre sounds, The Purging is a tour de force in unsettling songcraft.

The band members go by the names The Cuckoo (yes, that’s actually the vocalist’s pseudonym), Risperdal, and Hibernal, and no one on the outside really knows who does what. Multi-part songs like “Black Pearl in a Crystalline Shell” and “The Nucleus Turbine” ride on claustrophobic atmospheres dominated by growled lyrics and turbulent drumming that borders on industrial in nature. More straightforward pieces keep the album grounded, with “House of Flesh” the most notable departure as it blasts through a three-minute runtime like Ministry in a house of horrors. Putting any sort of label on The Purging is basically futile, as each song takes pieces of noise, black metal, doom, post-rock, and totally indescribable elements (see: “At the Foot of the Tree”) and mashes them into a concoction that evokes Meshuggah in equal turn with Bathory’s immortal “Odens Ride Over Nordland.”

Terra Tenebrosa’s organization of the whole exercise (see related: exorcise) is key. “The Redeeming Teratoma” opens with two minutes of fuzzy synthesizer surrounded by horror soundtrack noises, then decompresses into the shifting polyrhythms of “The Compression Chamber” to jump-start the album. On the other end, “Disintegration” restores order after some creepy instrumental chicanery with a more straightforward structure, rising from a hollowed-out bridge to a huge climax of layered guitar harmonies and vocals that blend seamlessly into howling wind. It must have taken a staggering amount of samples and tracks to weave these pieces together, but the overall sound is remarkably balanced – each heavily-panned vocalization has a counterpart; every guitar wail and radio broadcast sample seems to occupy its own niche within the wall of sound. Whoever mixed and produced the album deserves an award (it’s not like anyone involved with the Grammys will ever hear it).

The most remarkable thing about The Purging is how it manages not to overwhelm despite its turbulence and nebulous composition. Songs fade in and out, pummeling riffs come and go, and the whole affair wraps up in a tidy 47 minutes without once becoming stale. Crafting an album like The Purging is a tricky affair, but Terra Tenebrosa weaves its incendiary compositions to maximum effect and makes sure that no element outstays its welcome. That, perhaps more than anything, is what leads to the success of The Purging, an album that implies that not only is the well is still plenty deep, but the best may be yet to come.

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