Written by: Noctus
Bands enshrouded in mystery have almost become a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that really works. What we don’t know makes us wonder and look on with morbid curiosity, and as such, I landed myself this obscure number, Envoy. Little is known about Below the Sun, a fully anonymous band from the heart of Russia, but imagine if Rosetta and Amenra crossed into one. That means delay-drenched clean guitars, hard-hitting and heavy, sludgy dirges and a cosmic, dark atmosphere that’s as unforgiving as it is oddly alluring.
Envoy is slow, absorbing and brooding. It isn’t an album that requires patience as much as it does a predisposition for space-themed music; that or an emotionally blank state of mind. It’s a sound that tempts you to lose yourself inside it and the band truly deserves props for achieving this so readily with their first release, clearly sounding like it was crafted by the hands of experienced purveyors of heavy soundscapes. Both “Outward the Sky” and “Cries of Dying Stars” have very solid foundations – a penchant for building tension helps differentiate sections, providing the feel of a ‘journey’ the album needs to avoid getting lost in itself. The former track also has some very pleasing vocal variety. While they revel in making this solid atmosphere, memorable moments are sparse and after the initial buzz it’s all to easy to forget what track you’re listening to.
Some of the stronger riffs are compelling in their own right, the post-rock tinged lead guitar of “The Earth” deserving recognition as well as the industrial rhythm guitars akin to Godflesh that comprise “Drift in Deep Space,” but it simply isn’t enough in the long haul. The melodic simplicity starts to wear thin and the extraordinary moments begin to feel akin to floating between the massive space of stars, looking distantly at the splendor. It makes the promise of this album all the more frustrating because it’s there in profusion; few bands could forge an atmosphere this compelling on a first attempt, but in its current state it becomes little more than heavy elevator music. There are few excuses for its length, either, especially when “Breath of Univerce” is such a stock-standard ambient track that doesn’t improve the experience whatsoever.
The album measures a sorry DR6 if you exclude the ambient movement in the latter end of the album. I have difficulty working out what Mell Dettmer was thinking when mastering this – the constant distortion and crackle from unnecessary brickwalling sucks put a lot of the album’s atmosphere, a real detriment to everything the band tries to achieve. A spacious mix with more headroom would have suited this perfectly. In terms of tone and balance, the album is on the right track but the lack of dynamics makes it sound scrubbed and brash.
Despite the record having potential and an element of enjoyability when listened to without too much focus, more fitting production, stronger riffs and melodies would have taken the space-themed metal to its very heights. There’s a beauty that this record contemplates from a distance but fails to grasp as often as it should. The atmosphere and ideas are bang on but it lacks the structure and discipline to make a memorable record out of it. Though, listening to this album does have one thing in common with space – striking from a distance but damn empty when you’re in it. Points for accuracy, I suppose.