So far this year, I’ve been tasked with reviewing—or simply listening to—a handful of shoegazing, post-black promos from a variety of little-known bands. Some of them are worth their weight in gold, while others are worth their weight in horseshit. For many, this genre petered out in the last decade or so when many o’ band jumped on the WitTR bandwagon, over-weighing the vehicle and driving its wheels axle-deep in the mud. Though I enjoy the style more than most metalheads, the navel-watching releases from so-so musicians desperately attempting to mirror the genre’s paramount bands get a bit old. But, being the optimistic guy that I am, I took a chance and grabbed yet another post-black promo for review. Some of you will applaud me for my perseverance; others will call me names like “masochist” or “bellybutton-lint sifter.” Regardless, the mood has struck me and it’s time to stare off into space and be depressed.
The band’s 2012 debut, Wish, turned out to be a bizarre mix of mind-fucking electronica set over surprisingly mild post-black atmospheres (at least in comparison to the heavy, post-black focus of their other albums). Multi-instrumentalist, Tim Yatra (aka Germ), obviously scrounged through the bargain bins of his favorite bands to deliver an album brimming with a creative mix of influences; even though it lacked continuity and cohesion. A year later, Germ upped the post-black dosage in his songwriting, while maintaining his signature electronic flourishes, synthy instrumentals, and mood-swinging clean-to-rasping vocal deliveries. That’s where 2013’s Grief left off and where 2016’s Escape begins.
Escape‘s opener sets a simple, somber mood for the rest of the album with anxious xylophone strikes and synth-esized atmospheres. After only a minute, “I” transitions into the album’s title track with some of the most crushing, straightforward tunnel shrieking and depressive melodies Yatra has ever written. Germ lets loose a torrent of incoherent screaming for the track’s eight-and-a-half minute duration, allowing the reverberating guitars to spin a web of emotion that, while typical for the genre, foreshadows Escape‘s mission. The album eliminates most of the electronica of the debut and limits the interludes/instrumentals of Grief to only “I” and “V”— the latter being the album’s midway intermission. The two songs most successful at incorporating all of these elements would have to be “The Old Dead Tree” and “With the Death of a Blossoming Flower.” Using massive builds that literally drip with emotion, the climaxes of each song are so devastating that their depressive chords will inevitably have you thinking unpleasant thoughts.
While numbers like “I’ll Give Myself to the Wind,” “The Old Dead Tree,” and “With the Death of a Blossoming Flower” use long-ass song structures to plant their Alcest-like seeds, “Under Crimson Skies” dishes up some savory surprises. Providing color to Escape‘s murky proceedings, “Under Crimson Skies” incorporates accessible and catchy-as-fuck clean vocals with a pleasantly “upbeat” tempo. The song builds up to a powerful conclusion that includes a smooth chorus, whose vocal arrangements bring to mind Dream Theater‘s James LaBrie. “Closer,” the album’s appropriately titled… ummm… closer, also stands out like a random blip on a flat-lined cardiac monitor. Piggy-backing off “With the Death of a Blossoming Flower,” its angelic clean vocals and beautiful guitar work resonate in the most Alcestian way and bring this record to a fulfilling conclusion.
Escape is perhaps the most concise full-length of Germ‘s discography, but its straightforward approach actually hinders the creativity expressed in its predecessor, Grief. Though Grief spilled over into a seventy-minute run-time, it had a flow and spontaneity that unraveled with every listen. Conversely, with each spin of Escape, I find myself listening to songs like “The Old Dead Tree” almost exclusively for the ending. Nevertheless, the variation created by the short interludes and curveball numbers like “Under Crimson Skies” make for a memorable release with surprising staying power (regardless of its Alcest-core tag). Escape isn’t completely original, but its beautiful dynamics and gorgeously depressing atmospheres pull me in, allowing it to stand out as one of the more enjoyable post-black releases so far this year.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Records