Saturday, May 15, 2010

Avernus - Where The Sleeping Shadows Lie

Avernus - Where The Sleeping Shadows Lie
2000, Cursed Productions

It's difficult for me now to remember exactly where I first saw notices of Avernus, or where I heard their music. I can recall seeing advertisements for their last release floating around, and I do remember being intrigued by the descriptions of the material I came across. However, when this band were really working on the music that has made them underground legends (and I mean the 'Sadness' demo) I probably was listening to completely different forms of music at the time - strictly black metal, for example - and so I didn't even notice them as they flew beneath my radar, under cover of darkness. The 'Sadness' material is the oldest, and so it's placed first on this compilation CD, but it's also (by far) the most important music here, and the most innovative...meaning, for me, the most impressive, the most moving, the most engaging. Avernus, on these four songs, combine an approach that must have been learned from Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride with an original, esoteric take on doom metal, and do not try (too obviously) to either reproduce the music of their idols/influences or to experiment so much that they travel completely away from acceptable song structures. All these songs are relaxed, and flow smoothly in and out of character, never really reaching towards any kind of definable goal, but allowing - because of this - a calm on the part of the listener, who can rest easy knowing that the band is primarily concerned with the illustration and construction of atmospheres or the communication of moods...not to set down, once and for all, the 'perfect' doom metal song in all of its 'longer than nine minutes' glory. I hear a fair amount of 'As The Flower Withers' and 'Gothic' in these songs, but it could just be me. For example, the song 'The Faustian Heart' opens in a way that will immediately make you think 'Oh, Martin Powell', but the melody embraced is so strange that it loses all connections with MDB almost immediately, if you're really paying attention. Beneath all of this, and beneath the crashing drums and pounding guitars, we have melodies (cycling through the song) that remind me of middle-eastern music more than dour English melancholy. What I'm trying to demonstrate here is that Avernus were definitely influenced by...certain bands, but they took that initial impetus/inspiration and were original enough to twist it around inside from the very beginning. Perhaps this is why their music has lasted, while so many other doom bands who employed the British Big Three elements have fallen by the wayside...

But, as you probably expected, it's the song 'Anastasia' that really grips me, and I still believe this might just be the best work they have ever written. From the odd backwards-crawling drum patterns (that reappear right before the chorus) in the first thirty seconds to the beautiful first melody on top of the rhythm guitars, from the mastery of the lion-roaring vocals, their perfect pacing and expressiveness to the eloquence of the song structure itself, the way the riffs evolve cleanly and flow out of and into each other with the greatest of ease, down to the production used, the echoing ambience of the atmosphere created by reverb-drenched strings...all of the melodies and riffs used, the different dynamics, the speed changes, etc. - this is just a classic doom metal song, and really needs to be heard widely. In this song, Avernus transcend themselves...and how strange is it that bands often do that almost always when they least expect it? The best part of the entire song (aside from the drum rhythm mentioned above, and the way it seems to make the guitars float in midair, going back and forth at the same time) is the section right after the chorus break, where the guitars slip into a sort of drudging, dissonant wall of sound, just pounding a strange bewitching series of chords again and again beneath a sampled voice...this happens at exactly five and a half minutes into the song, and is the most innovative few seconds I think Avernus ever came up with. In a few years after this demo was released, that dissonant, atonal combination of tones would be used everywhere in metal as the musical accompaniment to a mental/emotional collapse...it's the sound of madness peeking through the cracks in the walls. At this point exactly Avernus opens a doorway into the subconscious, and the beauty and wistful sadness of their melodies is transformed into something else entirely: into horror, fear, a sort of loathing that sees beyond the pitiful emotions of human beings into an abyss that lies just beneath our desires. Where 'Anastasia' opens with melancholy and remembrance, regret and an earnest wish for a reconciliation with one's own memories (the past, living through us into the present), this break (and I use that term to refer to more than the musical structure) turns your eyes downward, the gray, swirling layers of Avernus's sound rips away to the sides and reveals a black, bottomless pit beneath, which they just pound away at, again and again, as if...trying to open the door completely once and for all. It's a concentration that, upon repeated listening, reveals its true nature as a suicidal urge, a hunger for death - thus being the dark heart of the song's theme itself, and so perfectly placed right after the 'false' melodramatics of the chorus, in the middle of the piece.

If I was in this band, I would have stretched this segment out to last for a few minutes at least...but Avernus, obviously coming from a song writing background that prized variation and thematic flow above all, wisely decided to leave it as just another moving segment in a song that ranges through a number of different sections, all of which - individually - call on different genres of metal music. In 'Anastasia' there's even a little death metal inside the framework...

So it's interesting to me that in this song, which seems to essentially be about regret, the ephemeral nature of love, the differences between one's ideals and reality, etc. we have a musical entrance of Death itself...but can there be any more honest and genuine desire than the wish for death after one's illusions have been torn away?

This CD is actually 78 minutes long, and features (as far as I can tell) almost all of Avernus's recorded output - except for the 'Of The Fallen' disc. However, because I still feel that the 'Sadness' demo was this band's finest hour, I can't really motivate myself to write about the rest of the music on here. Let's just say that...things fall away quickly after the fourth track. 'Godlessness', another one of their well known songs, is something of a downer, really...with the vocals being somewhat uninspiring to me (again, this is just my personal taste, a lot of people actually like this piece), and the guitars losing much of the heaviness and melodic originality they had on the earlier material. Also, more than ever before this song sounds like the band are taking their melodic inspiration straight from English (or it could even be Irish) folk melodies, and so it just runs to repetition.

So, anyway, let me just sum up by saying that this CD is worth finding just for the first demo material, and - if anything - it seems to be pointing to this band's resurrection, along heavier, more intense lines...so in that sense it must be celebrated. For the completist, doom metal enthusiast, or fan whose tapes are wearing a bit thin...