Harsh and fairly abstract genres such as drone, noise, and left-field black metal are conceptually subtle, fragile things that require a careful balancing act to pull off properly. There are two ways that successful bands do this. One group of musicians immerses itself fully into the abyss of extremes, slowing down tempos to the point of near immobility and amplifying texture beyond thresholds of painful saturation (Sunn O)))). The other group carefully crafts concoctions that are ultimately dynamic in their repetitiveness and cohesive in their chaos (Aluk Todolo). Belgian four piece Alkerdeel belong to the latter, fusing black metal’s aggressiveness with drone-like repetitions and sludgy, spacious atmospheres that are crushed by snappy breaks and breakneck turns. Judging by their previous two full-lengths and several very good splits, Lede should have been the crowning moment of a band that was standing on the brink of finding a particular artistic sweet spot1.
Instead, Lede feels as a moment of stagnation within a stylistic approach that doesn’t tolerate such weaknesses. Rather than evolving from their previous releases, especially the great collaboration with Gnaw Their Tongues, Alkerdeel feels static and stuck in a rut with the 39 minutes of new material spread thin. Their most serious crime? A deficit in visceral impact and subdermal, fleshy hooks that would work on the subconscious rather than the conscious. Aluk Todolo, understanding the risks of standing in place, have moved on and transmogrified their sound, even if that meant losing some of the earlier appeal, while Lede shows a band that’s regressing rather than progressing, turning back towards humdrum black metal that lacks compositional complexity and with psychedelically intonated adornments pushed to the conceptual back. If observed closely, Alkerdeel’s music can be cynically described as nothing more than conventional, spastic black metal played with sludgy guitars stuck in a droning loop whose excursions outside metronomic tempos are usually unsubstantial and unimpressive.
In such a dealing of cards, the title song is easily the best with just the right duration and a couple of interesting ideas and riffs that are shuffled around with thrash intensity and some pleasingly dissonant leads. There’s even something akin to an invitation to a spastic dance hidden in the blast beats, insane growls, and buzzing guitars. On the other hand, taking “Regardez ses yeux III” as an example, things suddenly appear incoherent. The tune starts with the rapidness and aggression first found during the tortured and murmuring opening cut “Regardez ses yeux I,” with similar if not identical riffs, only to be broken up by a slower segment. The change is abrupt, the return to ferocity equally so. This type of movement appears pointless, unable to bring anything exceptional to the table and instead painting a picture of dryness and creative deficiency. Further proof can be found in the lengthy final track “Gråt Deleenaf” that rants for four minutes with a tedious intro consisting of a spiraling riff and some background noises, while the bass undulates in long crests. The rhythm is monotonous, the song ultimately not hypnotic but taxing, not even aided by the band switching gears and laying some interesting leads.
Whether the production helps or not is debatable. The sound is often muddy and boomy, drowning out the guitars that tend to emerge from just one channel while the vocals are distractingly abrasive and sibilant, overpowering the rest of the instruments. Still, this is an album whose main problem is not in the production nor the musicianship, which is on a pretty high level (guitarist Pui and bassist QW played in the legendary Leng Tch’e). Quite the contrary, the prominent bass lines are one of the redeeming qualities of the album, serving as leads that pulse subtly yet incessantly, making themselves felt. Rather, it’s a poverty of ideas and direction and the absence of a singular concept to pursue that drag Lede down.
Ultimately, this means that the album fades from mind as soon as the last riffs, screams, and underlying rumble subside. It’s unfortunate. Alkerdeel have previously proven they can do better than this. Maybe their next record takes them somewhere dangerous and exciting, outside any comfort zones. In the meantime, I have a feeling that this material might translate well into a live performance, so be sure to catch them if they play somewhere near you.