Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Misery's Omen - Misery's Omen

Misery's Omen - Misery's Omen
2003, Bindrune Recordings

Although I was at first - almost spontaneously, from the moment of its initial impact - drawn to Misery's Omen's music, I found it difficult in the days following my earliest listens to adequately sum up to myself, in my mind, just what it was that I found so compelling in their songs. Was it the idiosyncratic, otherworldly riffing, the expressive soloing, the strange/eerie vocals of crazed frontman Arganoth, the instrumental skill on display, the welcome warm bass tone and additional level of the bass's interaction with the guitar? Could it be...the drumming? All joking aside, I believe the reason that I had so much trouble with drawing a circle around this band's music and its effect on me was simply because I enjoyed it too much...it was difficult to be "critical" (or at least pretend to be, which is often the same thing) in light of my enthusiasm for the material. Now that I have given myself a week or so of straight listening to this, my admiration for this band's originality has not faded...however I do feel adequately prepared to attempt to discuss their music. So...I am not trying to imply that my enjoyment of their songs is slipping away - quite the opposite, in fact. I think I have reached a certain point where my high regard for their abilities has been tempered by a more workable, manageable familiarity with the music.

Misery's Omen bear all the signs of a musical isolation, seemingly springing forth without a single locatable (overriding) genre influence to attempt a creation of a metal art that is, I hope, something that is equally aesthetically and emotionally satisfying for them. I would hate to think they were pressing themselves towards an original stance or take on extra-genre specifics based on some kind of vain search for notoriety in the surfeited, bloated, pathetically lackluster worldwide scene. I would rather think of them evolving their own sound because of a lack of contrasts around them, much like the (supposed) history of Tasmania's Psycroptic. I can not point to many of their direct influences, which is such a rarity in this type of music...not least of all because metal is such a self-referential, conservative form of art, where every step forward into the darkness of chaos or true original self-reflection is taken while firmly tied to the bands that have come before. It is a momentarily pleasing image to see (even if it is illusory or self-created), in one's mind, a band like this casting the safety ropes behind them and advancing courageously. There are so few rewards for true originality in metal! If the bizarrely genre lyrics of a camp science fiction theme like "Desolate Winds of Mars" do not convince you that this band is on their own path and just doesn't care, perhaps something like the painfully emotional vocal performance throughout the album will, especially when it comes to screams like the piercing one at 4:11 in this song or the strange interlude at 4:53 in "Mortalia's Abyss"...this is not a band that holds back...

So, to try to describe their music succinctly, I believe I can point to early Scandinavian black metal as a distinct influence, although I would be tested if asked to provide exact names. Darkthrone? Gorgoroth? Who knows? This is not a black metal band, though. They use the vocabulary and riffing symbolism/overt messages of that style to express their own ideas, but they are equally comfortable using doom metal clich├ęs or trad metal forms like the bridge at 1:55 in "Mortalia's Abyss" that seems like a crawling, too-obvious nod to the opening three-note knell of Black Sabbath's first. It fits the rest of the material perfectly but its appearance throws one for a loop in light of the two songs that appear before it in the playing order. This segment is of course breached and pierced by a return to lightspeed black metal, but...one almost gets the feeling in the course of this song that these high energy elements were launched into with something approaching reticence...or disapproval. The sedate, lush instrumental "Ashes Smoulder" perhaps echoes a kraut rock stimulus, but I am as certain of that as I am convinced the following track "Antarctic Ice-Chasms" is aiming me towards Neurosis's "The Word as Law". I can't tell for sure, and that's part of this band's beauty. A form of rock that does not appear here (thankfully), however, is modern death...or any kind of really obvious reference to anything that has happened in that scene over the last 12 years. This is interesting (at least to me) in itself by its absence. There is also a buoyant, bouncing, Voivod-like concentration here on bright, twisted riffing in order to create a chiaroscuro effect in relation to the grim monochrome of northern melodicism or perversely simple (technically, not emotionally) black doom segments. An example of this technique would be the three segment first riff on the album, which is used as a launching mechanism to propel the band into Norway. Energetic, accelerating, then Immortal-speed...Misery's Omen are "progressive" to the last.

I would like to briefly highlight the fact that this is a genuine three-piece band here, a group where its members share equally in the music and perform, instrumentally, in ways that complement each other and add significantly to the total yield of meaning within the music...something that is very rare. The bass playing especially is admirable, and I believe the production throughout these songs is at least attempting to place the bass on an equal level with the guitar. It helps that the guitar sound, from the black metal influence, is not too deep or overpowering in low tones. This leaves a comfortable midrange space for the bass to fill with its colorful timbre and that adds so much to the music here...at least for me. Another strength of this band is their intent to create memorable, individual songs with well-explored themes and interesting, moving sequences of linked motifs. That is also a rarity today. I come away from each listening feeling that Misery's Omen know exactly where they want to take their style in the future, and that is a result of sturdy, poignant, thought-out creations. This is just an excellent collection of works from an outstanding band. Highly recommended.