Well the black-metal, one-man acts just keep coming. This time Total Negation‘s third release gets its turn in critiquing, rating, and word-smithing. For those that follow every word, every name, and every score transferred through the fingertips of AMG’s staff this year, you should recognize the man behind Germany’s Total Negation. Making his second appearance in the last couple weeks, Wiedergaenger also did session drums for Vargnatt’s Grausammler. While our disappointed Diabolus in Muzaka scored Grausammler in the “bad” (aka “sad Panda”) category), Wiedergaenger’s contribution behind the kit was pretty solid. But those that know Total Negation know that Wiedergaenger can do more than just play the drums. New release, Zeitzeuge, continues down the road of weird, depressive black metal that Wiedergaenger built; full of depression, German lyrics, oddball percussion instruments, and even some of those stringed ones.
While Total Negation and Vargnatt are similar in origin and genre, our beloved Noctus did a fine job of pointing out Total Negation’s quest for weirdness as they expanded beyond their genre in sophomore outing, Zur späten Stunde | Zeiträume. This two-EP full-length pushed beyond the straightforwardness of their 2009 debut [Zeitenwende] and into new musical territories. The first half of Zur späten Stunde | Zeiträume (the Zur späten Stunde part) sees Total Negation following in its predecessor’s footsteps before the wackiness takes hold in the second half. Zeiträume slowed the pace, upped the deliberateness of the riffs, brought the vocals forward, incorporated more bass and drum leads, and slapped the listener in the face with a vibraphone in an effort to completely decimate their comfort zone. Unfortunately, Zur späten Stunde | Zeiträume left much to be desired and the question remains: can Wiedergaenger keep this crazy-train chugging and the controls in hand as it careens farther down the rabbit hole?
Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by “control.” If what you really mean is, slow it way the fuck down, add some post-rock-esque guitar and bass work, and bring Wiedergaenger’s Quorthon-like vocals so far forward that it seems almost disruptive, then yes, I guess it’s under “control.” While the progression from Zur späten Stunde | Zeiträume to Zeitzeuge seems reasonable, there’s not a lot that’s overly impressive or memorable about opener “Betrachter.” The one thing that does become apparent during the opener – and even more so throughout the rest of the album – is that Wiedergaenger’s instrumental skills have increased dramatically from past releases. For instance, there are many doomy interludes where the bass takes the reins and the drums cruise effortlessly behind it. Unfortunately, this technique is used a lot throughout the album and it begins to lose its charm. The mood and atmosphere are there but they rarely seem to hold and sink in. However, there are some exceptions. “Flüchtling” works better in the sullenness and weirdness departments, structured around many ups-and-downs (like most of the songs on this album), it drags you through some musical diversity, acoustic guitars, fast-to-slow pacing, and some stellar instrumental implementation.
Other tracks that employ the entire playing field (and sport some interesting oddities) would be “Kronzeuge” and the title track. As witnessed on Zur späten Stunde | Zeiträume tracks like “Geist,” these two songs utilize the very strange vibraphone. In “Kronzeuge,” the vibraphone is perfectly suited to the atmospheres, dissonances, and eerie guitar effects that span the nine-minute runtime, but it goes flat in an unpleasant and goofy way in the winding, confused “Zeitzeuge.” Noctus’ description of Total Negation’s vibraphone as sounding like a child’s toy is damn near spot on and this is never more apparent than in the title track.
Besides highlights like “Kronzeuge” and the almost Shining-like intro, cool bass work, and beautiful melodies of “Heimkehrer,” Zeitzeuge features a lovely production job. The instruments are beautifully balanced and the lack of compression (holy shit… DR11?) makes them sound rich and warm. While the vocals could learn a lesson or two about personal space, their crispness mirrors the clean sound the band employs on Zeitzeuge. Unfortunately, the music on this album does not top its precursor, but this fine recording job keeps me from being completely disappointed with the result.