Ahh, hype. It’s true, you shouldn’t let it form or taint your opinion on a record but it’s almost impossible not to let it affect it in some form or another. Amenra‘s new album has been a long time coming, their last album 4 years ago, and many people have been hyped as hell for it. One big difference is the fact they’re now signed to Neurot Recordings, a record label owned and run by members of Neurosis and Tribes of Neurot. This alone is enough to get some people excited, as Neurosis is a band that many people are incredibly passionate about, some claiming them to be one of the most influential bands of the past few decades. My disagreement of this aside, it was difficult to ignore the voices that were crying out for this new album. They were heard – Mass V arrived and to wide critical acclaim from the very moment it hit the internets and several close and intent [And totally legal, we here at AMG receive promos - AMG] listens later I am still at a loss for words as to why people are so hyperbolic about this band and album.
Perhaps my reference to Neurosis and their label is unfair but in terms of sound I feel the two are very comparable. The structure and style of riffs, even down to the style of the drums, the tribal nature of the beats that constantly sound like they’re building up to something that never actually gets there. Amenra are much more centred around metal than Neurosis though, the sludge/doom coming at the forefront of their sound with highly distorted guitars playing slow, deep riffs with lots of crash, pummeling drum work with the high, abrasive screams of the frontman ringing over them with the inaudible lyrics – all the staples that make this type of music good are here, it’s just with Mass V they seem so stripped down, monotonous and scrubbed of what makes this genre compelling that it’s difficult to understand what’s enjoyable about this record.
It really doesn’t take long for the flaws to cripple the record outright; as soon as the album begins, 3 minutes in and you’ve already heard most of what the album has to offer. The same builds to the same simplistic riffs to the same vocals (which are notable for their monotony) at the same pace to the same tone and atmosphere. Throughout the 40 minutes that this record lasts almost nothing changes. While there may be shifts beneath the surface the record drags and repeats themes, builds and riffs with little variation. The clean guitars strum a minimalistic line that mostly comprises of one note. Things slowly builds, but not subtly or with any sign of deftness or a feel for writing, before recycling the riff at a snail’s pace. They keep playing this riff ad nauseum until it fizzles out and the song technically starts again. Again. Again and again. [All work and no play make Noctus a dull boy... - AMG]
Now, maybe if this sounded the least bit ‘heavy’ it would be far more engaging and perhaps this structure would make more sense; the tension rising to a really satisfying and pulverizing payoff. But alas, Mass V sounds annoyingly clean and stripped bare of the dark, gritty atmosphere of its forebear, Mass IIII [So wait, not only are they not good, but they don't know their Roman numerals, either!? For shame! - AMG]. The latter record was far from perfect and inhabited many of the same issues as this album (albiet not as bad), but it just felt meatier, more substantial, darker, perhaps even apocalyptic, the monotonous approach wasn’t nearly as present. It was a great foundation for what could have had a great follow-up album, but of course, none of the potential was capitalized on and we’re left with a monotonous collection of inoffensive but far from pleasing sounds.
In the end all that can really be said is that there’s some noteworthy bands that achieve what this album strives to achieve much more successfully. It’s worth saying that the bands these guys get compared to frequently (Cult of Luna, Neurosis) aren’t exactly my thing either so maybe I’m missing something. Otherwise, pick up Year of No Light – Ausserwelt. Not only is it as heavy as it is interesting, it also has a very similar structure and atmosphere to this, only expanded upon far more extensively in its runtime. As for this album, Amenra take all the most boring aspects of their last album and rip off Neurosis with it, or at the very least capitalize on Neurosis’ sound beyond comfort. Scott Kelly even does guest vocals on this album, incidentally the best vocal performance on the album, too. If you’re a fan of both bands you’ll likely get far more out of it than me, but otherwise it can’t be ignored that all these songs are intrinsically exactly the same and annoyingly simplistic.