Alkuharmonian Kantaja – Shadowy Peripherals Review

I like my music weird. It’s a problem, and it’s great. You see, I don’t think there’s really a lot of truly “weird” in metal. Weird musicians, sure. Weird concepts, absolutely—how about those guys who write about mollusks?—but actual, genuine, weirdness? I don’t know. So when I see the fabled “avant-garde black metal” tag floating about in our pile o’ promos, I tend to take first and ask questions later. For example, in this case, I might have asked something like “what exactly is Alkuharmonian Kantaja” (it’s Finnish for “One Who Carries the Original Harmony”)? Where are they from (Finland, obviously)? Who are they (no idea; band members J. Usurper, S. Redeemer, and D. Harbinger are credited with such instruments as “Savage Introspection,” “Advanced Bidding,” and “Parallel Dimensions” respectively)? And exactly how avant-garde is their debut full-length, Shadowy Peripherals?

Very. Shadowy Peripherals is very avant-garde, in the sense that it entirely subverts most of your expectations for what black metal “should” be. All of the elements of the formula are there, but the application is bizarre as bizarre can be. The opener and title track kicks off without preamble, into a reasonably gritty riff that repeats a few times before the vocals kick in. First, a strained and entirely unintelligible gurgle—on my first listen, I genuinely thought he might be saying “blublublubublub” for a second—then an exceedingly dramatic tenor that reminds of Les Chants du Hasard, and then an intoning narration that ups the drama factor even further. As these vocal tradeoffs take place, the guitars continue to cycle through the same few riffs over again, with some synth bells occasionally ringing through, to give the piece a sort of mystical atmosphere. There are some nice ideas throughout, but ultimately a lack of variety, except in the vocal department, where it is genuinely impossible to predict what is going to happen next.

So Alkuharmonian Kantaja delivers on the weird, but does so in a very disjointed sort of way. “I Am of the Beholder” illustrates this idea well; it opens with an almost-creepy string of picked guitar notes, where the distortion feels just right. When the vocals kick in, there’s no real sense of harmony between the singer’s drawl and the synths building up the backdrop… not to mention that the way the vocalist echoes himself by whispering lyrics he’s just finished singing lands closer to the camp of strange than mythical. The singing is grand and larger-than-life, but the music isn’t; it’s restrained and biding its time. This sort of disconnect makes it really hard to find catharsis in Shadowy Peripherals, and it just keeps on happening. Over forty-three minutes, Alkuharmonian Kantaja throws idea after idea into the pit, with guitars, keyboards, and vocals wailing together in an occasionally-harmonious disharmony. The minutes pass by, and then it’s over, leaving little in the way of lasting impressions.

It isn’t all disjointed ideas and confusing executions, however. “Oceans of Senses” has some really cool ideas, and the vocals are much more aligned with the music than is typical. The music itself is a little more frantic and the vocals become more subdued towards the end, contributing wordless chants that do a great job of accentuating one of the closest passages Shadowy Peripherals has to a “proper” black metal frenzy. “Harbinger (of the Fallen Hearts)” contains my favorite moment of the album towards its end. After the track crosses the halfway mark, it rises to proper-creepy status before smoothly transitioning into a frankly phenomenal driving riff that wraps itself up in a solid choral vocal performance. It sounds great; here, Alkuharmonian Kantaja make their strongest case for their avant-garde black metal style, and I wish more of the album sounded like these precious minutes.

I really wanted to like Shadowy Peripherals, but the bottom line is that I really don’t know what’s going on here, and I am definitely not the intended audience for this particular output. Despite moments of real promise sprinkled throughout, the dramatic vocal performance, various quirks, and general lack of power is a lot to look past. At times I feel I understand what Alkuharmonian Kantaja is going for, but for the most part, I finish my spins of Shadowy Peripherals feeling confused. I like my music weird, I really do—but this one simply isn’t for me.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Releases Worldwide: October 1st, 2021

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