Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Epoch of Unlight - What Will Be Has Been

Epoch of Unlight - What Will Be Has Been
1998, The End Records

When applying myself to the understanding of this album, the first few listenings left me more than a little cold. I had heard a lot about how Epoch of Unlight is a 'band to be watched' - from various reliable sources - and that they would soon 'develop into something spectacular'. 'Well,' I was thinking, 'maybe I'll just wait for that singular development before I listen to them again.' But it was on a frosty morning last week when I put a tape of this album into my car stereo, on my way to work, when at last the possibilities that this band offers were shown to me forcefully. It just takes a little time.

What at first is very distracting is the fact that Epoch draws from so many influences. There are tastes and touches of a lot of different bands (early Angel Corpse comes to mind as an influence for the drum blasts, and the vocals echo Cradle Of Filth almost continuously) on this album, but that is a common things on a band's first release (if this isn't Epoch's first release then I am woefully misinformed) and something that will naturally be transcended (in the best of cases) with their later works. Because this is an American band, they naturally have to answer to the standards of the nascent (read: relatively undeveloped) black metal scene in this country: the accepted dogma, stylistics, etc. Cheerfully their answer is a scoffing dismissal of the American Black Metal stereotype. In fact, I really can't fathom why this band has been placed in that category: they wield some of that genre's weaponry, but only, it seems, reluctantly...and in truth they surpass (by far) the limited scope that such a scene allows for its members. But of course this a release from The End Records, and if you are familiar with the other bands on their roster, you will not be surprised at the fact that Epoch of Unlight hovers around the clear boundaries of various genres without committing themselves to any one in particular.

I believe that this band is actually much closer to the NWOSDM - the Gothenburg sound that has swallowed the last few years of this decade, and with their burnished bright riffing, swift stop-and-start rhythms, minor chord melodies, and twin guitar digressions they make me think of nothing so much as a dark Tennessee variation on Dissection. Why Dissection as a reference? Because Epoch are a little too downtrodden and melancholy to sit comfortably alongside In Flames or Dark Tranquility on the subgenre shelf, and when they incorporate their most tenebrous, shadowy riffs, they come far closer to the ideal of Norwegian blackness than most Swedish bands ever do. Dissection had a tone or tint of murderous intent in their music which no bands since have been able to match - especially bands that concentrate solely on the guitar pyrotechnics.

Epoch of Unlight are technically gifted, there is no doubt about that, and a large part of this album's time is given over to distracting displays of their composing and/or playing ability, but what I like most about this record are the instances when they descend from their search for the 'ultimate riff' to just bash out the brutality in a traditionally violent manner. That characteristic, mixed with their uncommon feel for foreboding and Norse noir-ish melodicism (especially in the third song), place them in the rare category of bands who are technical and talented enough to keep your interest without dazzling or stupefying you with fretboard glitter or pomp and circumstance. I am grateful for bands who are aware of the difference between the two.

It is with that technical edge that I think Epoch of Unlight gains the advantage. It opens up new possibilities for them and for the exploration of black metal's boundaries - what would it have sounded like, I wonder, if bands like Watchtower and Cynic had became possessed by the power of black metal and dedicated themselves to the furthering of that genre's technical side? This might sound like a contradiction in terms to you - 'A technical black metal band? A progressive black metal band? What the hell?' - but imagine all the possibilities! That, at least, is a new avenue to explore.