Am I a bad person for sometimes picking an album that’s more than a little likely to be a trainwreck? When you’ve had a long string of middling-to-okay albums, every now and then it’s just nice to demonstrate that there’s always something worse than your average tired metalcore or clichéd power metal. Preferably, the promo is shit in an interesting way; a daring experiment horribly failed from the point of conception, like pickled cucumber with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. Al Ard are described as a mixture of black metal and dubstep, and if you didn’t grimace at least a little just now, you probably managed not to hear about dubstep in the first place. Dubstep is the unholy combination of a computer on the fritz and all the worst tendencies of electronic music. The last time we saw a metal band try to incorporate dubstep was about as pleasant as using a lamprey for a fleshlight. Can Al Ard overcome my prejudice and rise to the occasion? Can they make the Frankensteinian combo work?
Well, occasionally, yes, when they actually combine the two, which is predominantly on the first half of the album. Uniting caustic black metal with unsettling electronics creates a volatile and disturbing amalgam, a mechanical and cosmic form of industrial black metal that gets you to squirm uncomfortably in your seat. The electronics and drum machine trap you within grotesque machinery, with the organic notes supplied by hollow, furious tremolo riffing, and vox that tread the line between growl and screech. Samples are used sparingly but effectively, disquieting echoes of desperate voices and infernal apparatuses. While not perfect, these tracks manage a claustrophobic atmosphere that demonstrates how such disparate genres can be intertwined successfully.
But after three such tracks, the band just… stops doing that. The rest of the album contents itself with darkly ambient dubstep, all black metal traces relegated to the occasional background rasp or sampled tremolo guitar. Experiments in electric distortion come and go, voices rise and fall ominously on the wind, but nothing comes even close to sticking because there is nothing to cling to. Melody is lost in a sea of monotonous distorted beats and drum ‘n bass rhythms. The dense and evil atmosphere sticks around, but with barely any instrumentation it feels unearned, more akin to a hip slasher movie soundscape than an actual price of dark, frightening music.
The final track finally sees the return of some measure of black metal, but instead of fusing it with the electronics as before, Al Ard largely switch between pure black metal and pure EDM, neither of which is as effective as their fusion of the styles. Couple that with the lengthy intro that consists of nothing but cyclical chanting and some gibbering nun, and the amount of decent music grows very short indeed. The production has all the characteristics you’d expect from reasonably harsh industrial black metal: low fidelity, a muddy mix and a loud master, particularly during the more metal-oriented tracks. The intro and the atmospheric dubstep lifts the overall DR score, but in general the band values the oppressive ambiance more than clarity.
The most surprising fact from Al Ard is that against all odds, they demonstrated a way to make black metal mixed with dubstep work. But regrettably, the second most surprising thing is how they spend most of the album completely failing to capitalize on it. Instead they muck about in repetitive electronics, meaningless atmosphere and incomplete ideas stretched far beyond the point of tolerable. I hate to see a good idea go to waste. I hate to see an ostensibly bad idea lead to good things that crash and burn in the face of an inept execution far more, because it’s a much more frustrating experience. Best to send Al Ard back into the satanic rave party from which they clambered.