Todtgelichter set off on a pretty steep upward trajectory since their underwhelming debut back in 2005. Beginning life as just another black metal band, by the time of their third record Angst in 2010 they had transformed into one of the more exciting prospects in post-black metal. With its distinctive artwork, overtly emotional content and prominent use of Marta Braun’s powerful clean vocals, Angst was a hugely promising record (featuring one of the best tracks of 2010 – the wonderfully named “Cafe of Lost Dreams”) that was ultimately let-down by inconsistent writing. Still, it hinted that the band would go on to great things, so I felt rather disappointed by follow-up Apnoe. The black metal influences and raw emotion expressed on Angst were replaced with plodding rock and mawkish melodrama, with Tobias Engelhardt’s vocals pushing the record dangerously close to emo territory. Fortunately they have seen the error of their ways, instating Marta as sole vocalist and bringing in organ player Frieder Loch, resulting in by far the best album of the their career so far.
Rooms returns to the style Todtgelichter exhibited on Angst, combining savage black metal with post-punk depressiveness and emotive melodies. Everything about Rooms, though, is an improvement over its spiritual predecessor: the songs are tighter, riffs better, arrangements more mature and overall flow of the record fantastic. After a couple of listens I noticed that I had somehow mixed up the track order, and it really does make a major difference to the overall album experience; they have obviously put a lot of thought into how the songs fit together. “Ghost” is a similarly strong opener to “Cafe of Lost Dreams,” though quite different in style – slow and moody rather than fast and aggressive. Its strong melodies and excellent layering of instruments set the scene for the record perfectly, and when the gorgeous synths take over from the guitars late on you wish it wouldn’t end.
Fortunately second track “Schrein” is equally powerful, its post-punk melodies blended perfectly with violent blastbeats, and again a fantastically beautiful outro that could cycle over forever. These tracks are stylistically similar and bordering on overly-long, so Todgelichter move in a totally different direction for track 3, which features only a church organ and Marta’s strong vocals echoing in the nave. Further highlights include the Katatonia/Madder Mortem blend of “Shinigami,” the tempo-shifting “4JK” and unsettling closer “Pacific,” but the standard remains consistently high across the record save for a rather ill-advised twelve-bar blues in the Green Carnation influenced “Origin.”
Technically the band have come on leaps and bounds since their debut. Marta proves equally adept at harsh vocals as she is at clean singing; her slightly nasal, powerful alto voice helps sets Todgelichter apart from contemporaries like Agrypnie and Nocte Obducta, though I would like to hear a softer side to her in future – it’s all power, all the time here. Drummer Tentakel Parkinson also deserves props for delivering a largely tasteful perfomance while slipping in some seeringly fast blastbeats when called for. The performances are well captured by the clear and sharp production, which unfortunately has been aggressively compressed during masteraaaahhh fucking hell why do they insist on making it so loud it clips why why WHY???!?!!!?!?!?!!!!!!
Given the disappointment of Apnoe I wasn’t expecting much from Rooms, but Todtgelichter have played a blinder in spite of (perhaps because of?) the personal difficulties they were apparently experiencing while writing it. They’ve hit on a near perfect blend of melancholy and aggression, and despite a couple of minor songwriting flaws the album works extremely well as a whole. Combining post-punk and black metal may no longer be revolutionary, but Rooms is one of the better examples of this hybrid and is likely to remain in heavy rotation on the captain’s deck for the foreseeable future.