Straasha / Numenor – Split Album - 4/5
First, before the review of this lovely little piece of melodic black metal begins, a note on rare releases and the internet. I have been completely spoiled by the internet and the plethora of music that is available for free. In the few instances when the album or band I am looking for is not available through links or torrents, I do not leap to order a copy through the label. Instead, I would rather troll through Russian archives and French forums looking for a link.
The label is certainly not to blame; they did everything within their power to make this available to me. Not only is their site easy to navigate and understand, but they provided over half the album in the form of samples. Does this act of generosity inspire me to pony up some dough, now that I am guaranteed quality work? Of course not, and I resort to asking random contributors for an upload. After months of waiting and searching, a benevolent soul took pity on me and sent me a copy of one of the most majestic and image inspiring albums I have ever heard. So, thank you Mors_Gloria, and thank you Melancholia Records. I look forward to the hard copy I have purchased from your distro.
I suppose you are wondering about the music by this time. Both bands here play a strong, guitar-led blend of black metal, and long acoustic melodic passages, but in different styles and lengths. The drumming is solid, and typical of black metal, but can restrain during the melodic breaks, which are the unequivocal highlight of this half of the album. Straasha has a majestic blend of clean vocal chants and traditional black screeching, with enough death growls scattered about to give a sense of depth from the vocal front. Numenor’s vocals draw more heavily on sludgy death metal styles, with clean vocals taking a backseat, but still remaining present. There is far more melody on the Straasha half then the Numenor half, but the Numenor half has more focus, and dedication to their sound.
The riffing here is perfect. Beautiful, heart-wrenching, sweeping changes and no over-done technical wankery to spoil the feeling. No silly tremolo picking, no simple chugging, every line is thought out with a passion that suits the dignity of this album. Even a solo makes and appearance part way through Chapter II. The only thing I would consider changing here is the inclusion of the black metal elements. They add so much depth and freshness, but at the cost of some of the most melancholy tunes that have graced my ears. I do not think it is possible to improve this album without changing the core of what makes it great, but let me be clear. This is an album for passive listening, not technical dissection, or background noise, rather, a median between the two.
Comparing Straasha to other black metal acts is like comparing the images of a beautiful young woman’s face, decorated with a single tear that has rolled gently from deep azure eyes and frozen before it could fall from her cheek, and the flushed face of a tantruming toddler. Same focus and emotion shown, yet different in the most important way: in what emotions it evokes and how powerful they are. As for Numenor, take said tantruming toddler, age him twenty years, place him in a Viking setting, let some pirates steal his beautiful wife, and you have a general idea of what the emotions present are.
While lyrically, the Straasha album refers to a young man lost at sea, journeying for answers to his father’s death, the picture it invokes for me is that of a troubled girl, struggling with the inner conflicts of morality and a desire for revenge. She meets a boy who calms these feelings, and shows her the beauty present in the world around her, until the boy is taken from her. Now she is far more torn between her mourning of the lost love, and her memories of him that attempt to continue to show her the splendor around her. These images of beauty and hate constantly change and shift until she walks out toward the sunset, through the ice cold waves of the sea.
The Numenor half is far more straightforward in its imagery, and depicts the Viking man I alluded to earlier. He, in search for the answers to the mysteries of life, binds his soul to the great spirit of elemental darkness, and afterwards, realizes that the answers are useless to him now that he cannot act upon them or share them with those he cared about.
All in all, I believe that Mors_Gloria, a man I owe quite a bit to for my tastes today, said it best with this quote. “This is album won't make you dream about forests and cold landscapes. It’ll make you dream about oceans. This album leaves you with a warm feeling deep in your heart. These two bands play black metal in its purest form. No trendiness, no political activism, no religious dogmatism is going to be found here. Just music to drown for.”
By C.J. Ulferts
T. Bawden edits: Due to the indecision in the final mark, I have temporarily given it a mark of 4 until I can give it a decent listen and form an opinion. The argument is whilst there are flashes of absolute genius, there are as many that are barely above average.