There’s no winning here. No matter how I start this review, it’s inevitably going to be overshadowed by the fact that there’s a picture of a dead baby sitting right next to this paragraph. Numenorean try to rationalize their artwork by explaining that it represents the album’s concept of loss and ‘longing for what humans will never achieve,’ which may be the ‘innocence of a child,’ and that child is freed from ever experiencing the ‘pain and sorrow’ of adulthood because death – blah blah blah. Look, I have no problem with pretentious concepts in post-black metal, but trying to justify your dead baby artwork is like saying you weren’t cheating on your girlfriend, you just tripped and fell on top of her roommate while you were naked. It’s a losing game, and rather than getting caught in it, let’s just move on and focus on Home’s music instead.
But instead of a dull description of the five tracks and 44 minutes of Fen-like black metal on this Canadian quintet’s debut, let’s do something else. Take out a blank sheet of paper, draw a five-by-five square grid, and write one post-black cliche in each square. Ready? Good, because it’s time for POST-BLACK BINGO! Pressing play: ambient intro followed by Alcesty clean picking! Sudden eruption of whooshing guitars! Faint, echoey rasping! Shoehorned acoustic sections with distant screaming in the background! Soft parts with ample delay-pedal effects! Impending blastbeat fade-ins! ‘Ooohing’ female vocals! Obligatory mid-album instrumental! Piercing leads and shoegazey melodies! Post-rock interludes that abruptly explode into blasting! Esoteric personal lyrics with at least one mention of the ocean! And finally, false endings that lead to another three minutes of acoustic noodling and one last surge of wavering riffs before the end! Congratulations to the winner and sorry for whoever put ‘awkward spoken word section’ in their center block [Loser! – Steel Bingo].
But despite the fact that Home harvests nearly every post-black trope from Agalloch to Addaura, it’s not altogether a bad record. Penultimate track “Devour” in particular showcases some excellent melodies and guitar-work: the fuzzy lead about 8 minutes in is downright lovely, as is the rapidly picked, reverb-soaked riff at about 90 seconds (though I swear I’ve heard it somewhere before). Likewise, instrumental “Shoreless” features pleasantly reflective, Pale Folklore-esque clean picking, while “Thirst” introduces a terrific Panopticon-esque riff in its back half. To match the mood, the guitarists use a host of different tones, from silky smooth to fuzzy and distorted, reverb-soaked to glassy and clear. With all five members contributing vocals, there’s plenty of diversity there as well, from rasps, deep bellows, distant wordless screams, and even what sounds like coughing at one point.
That said, while some moments make Home feel like it could have been the best post-black record of 2016, at times it feels like Numenorean are trying to cobble together too many ideas for their own good. The opening title track feels particularly disjointed, flip-flopping between acoustic ambiance and black metal blasting no less than five times throughout its 9 minute runtime – the result being, of course, that all those good ideas mean little when they don’t have time to grow or breathe. Closer “Laid Down” suffers from similar songwriting A.D.D., albeit to a lesser degree, and while the other songs fare better, it doesn’t help that some of the guitar-work – particularly the cleanly-picked sections – sound like the slightest variations on melodies we’ve all heard before in this subgenre.
But ultimately, my biggest gripe with Home is that it comes across as emotionally overwrought, even cheesy at times, and seems a bit disingenuous in the way it cherry picks from superior albums. While a surprisingly riffy and spontaneous record for the genre, that actually works to its detriment, as Home is often unable to hammer its abundance of ideas into fully cohesive, enjoyable compositions. Even the production – while nicely layering the hazy guitars and crisp drumming – is pretty well smooshed. Sure, it’s a pleasant overall listen, even stellar at points, but in the end this is an example of a tiny blip in an overcrowded scene that will probably not be remembered at year’s end, only to be rediscovered and heralded as a forgotten classic when Dying Fetus is playing on classic rock radio in 20 years.1 Until then, all but post-black diehards and rabid Deafheaven fanboys are advised to proceed with caution.