Human beings can enjoy unpleasant experiences in small doses. Whether it’s watching the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet play out on stage, Michael Myers stalking a new victim in Halloween, or dropping hundreds of feet in a roller-coaster, people hunger for feelings that some would consider uncomfortable or frightening. Scientists aren’t certain why, and theories range from the mundane (we like adrenaline rushes) to the complex (we achieve catharsis through role-playing as a negative persona). I have my own theory, and it involves the idea that for most of us, modern life is safe. Extreme danger and fear are rare, which makes experiences that mimic them memorable. The genre of depressive suicidal black metal (DSBM) appears to support this, because not much is more extreme than profound depression and suicide. Yet those of us who listen, do so because it makes us feel better; that dabbling in the pain through music lessens its impact in the real world. DSBM a niche genre, but a powerful one. Enter Australia’s Advent Sorrow, a band that whose first album, 2016’s As All Light Leaves Her was promising, if standard, stuff. The members state that the follow-up will be “bolder and more muscular.” So is this an enjoyable roller coaster into sadness and depression?
Advent Sorrow plays a form of black metal that melds influences like Shining and Bethlehem. It’s meant for that niche audience that finds catharsis in profound suffering. Kali Yuga Crown is a much more unhinged, menacing beast than As All Light. The twist offered by the band is that the oppressive atmosphere is combined with occasional symphonic elements aimed at bolstering the fear and dread. Everything feels more unpredictable, and the album is all the better for it. If their first effort felt constrained by the expectations of the genre, this one is the sound of a beast breaking free.
The first noticeable aspect is the crushing and violent atmosphere created by Advent Sorrow. Some bands detonate a bomb in your head to get their despair across. These guys, at least in the beginning, slowly push your head into a black and menacing bucket of freezing water. The slow drowning effect works because the dissonant melodies combine very effectively with the extraordinary vocal performance of Rhys King. He howls and yelps and pours his heart into the material. Martin Donnelly’s drumming maintains an unrelenting and remorseless hold on the flow of the album and adds much needed drive. What we get are genuinely disturbing and compelling tracks like “Verminblood” and “Kali Yuga Crown.”
The great start, however, is not carried through. Advent Sorrow is unable to maintain the momentum the first half of the album creates; there’s a notable decline in the quality of tracks towards the end of Kali Yuga Crown. A song like “Majesty Enshrined,” while not poor, is just fairly standard DSBM, which is disappointing given the thrilling unpredictability which preceded it. There is also a clear tonal shift that occurs towards the back end, with the symphonic elements becoming more and more prominent, resulting in the oppressive atmosphere dissipating. This is exaggerated by the mix, which unfortunately buries the bass and therefore deprives Kali Yuga Crown of much-needed weight to counteract the soaring melodies. The tonal shift is not a problem per se, as it could have indicated a cathartic release from the bleakness of the first half. But the vocals remain as tortured as ever, which results in an experience akin to seeing a corpse-painted, leathered-up black metal fan sun-tanning on the beach.
Kali Yuga Crown is a step up from As All Light Leads Her. The fantastic performances from the musicians result in moments that are genuinely creepy and unpredictable. The first half provides all the catharsis that this tortured brand of music can deliver to the souls brave enough to stare into the void. The band loses its way a bit as the album lurches along, and there is occasional disharmony between the vocals and the symphonic elements. At its best, Advent Sorrow offers a profoundly disquieting experience. It’s just a pity this isn’t maintained, which makes this experience difficult to wholeheartedly recommend. Oh, and ditch the sketchy label, lads.