A great and wise man once said, “Let the music do the talking.” Okay, that was Steven Tyler, but it’s still true. There are times when a lot can be said with just your instruments, without the need for a voice, especially when those bands with voices want said voice to just shut up. In recent years, we’ve been bombarded by a slew of instrumental acts with varying degrees of success and talent. Belgian quartet Hemelbestormer (loosely translated to “idealist” in Dutch), is the newest to join the InstruMetal ranks with their debut album, Aether.
But first, a story, and it’s one that any person who was born near the ocean can relate to. When I was a wee Grymmling, my parents would take my glaringly Irish siblings and I to Odiorne Point, New Hampshire to go swimming every summer. I would go out into the water until it was almost hip-height, and just ride the current, keeping an eye out for any building waves. The higher the build-up, the heavier the impact when the wave finally crests, and I wanted to be knocked senseless by that kind of wave. Sadly, more often than not, the wave would just build up and dissipate or crest prematurely and the impact was deadened once it got to me. How does this relate to Aether? Sadly, that’s about as much impact as these four songs had on me.
Take “After Us, The Flood,” the album’s kick-off track. It starts off with ambient sound effects and whispering voices before we get into something that sounds like a cross between early Russian Circles with a touch of Blut Aus Nord ambience. Sounds promising, right? Sadly, the riffs between guitarists Filip Dupont and Jo Driesmans aren’t engaging, and with some exception the drumming of Frederik “Cozy” Cosemans doesn’t add much to the mix. The song then quietly wafts away five minutes in, giving the sense that the song is finally over… until you look at the runtime and realize that there’s still another ten minutes left. We have the prerequisite quiet-time part of the song next, leading the listener to believe that a huge crest is coming, and at 10:57, we get a very short, ineffective crest until the song finally ends four minutes later [The industry term for that is Return of the Kinging. – Steel Druhm].
The rest of the album fares no better. “The Purging” thankfully has some interesting melodies in the beginning, but also suffers from cramming three distinctly different songs into its almost thirteen-minute length. Nineteen-minute closing track “On Desolate Plains” starts off almost funeral doom-like, but also doesn’t engage due to lackluster riffs and its own pretentious length, especially when the last five minutes are all whispers and talking. “Starless,” while far from being a completely good song, is easily the standout because not only does it have the best riffs, but it’s also the shortest song at “only” twelve and a quarter minutes long. And now, some advice: the reason why a band like Russian Circles acquired so much success is because they know how to work with so little at their disposal, can throw unique curveballs at the listener and most importantly, they write engaging songs. This is key to survival when performing instrumental post-metal, as throughout Aether‘s excruciating length I prayed for anything to divert me from the boredom, and it never came.
Look, I’m for a great build-up and satisfying climax as much as the next person. But you don’t need twelve solid minutes, at the barest of minimums, to get there. I get where Hemelbestormer is going with Aether, but it leaves much to be desired. Parts of songs being good are okay, but who pays money to eat only parts of a dinner, watch only parts of a movie, or play only parts of a video game? And that’s where the problem lies. I do hope the next one is better, because there are small glimpses of talent, but it’s definitely not exhibited here.