Anael – Mare Review

Black metal carries an image, a culture, and an aesthetic. You know the hallmarks: corpse-paint, leather, spikes, frosty forests, an appreciation of all things blasphemous and evil. Initially shocking and terrifying, its image becomes tacky and cringeworthy with repeated exposure, so I’ve discovered greater appreciation for humble musicians who don’t buy into the novelty. Anael is such an act. Although undeniably veteran, founded in 1999, they don’t don their gay apparel corpsepaint or take tortured snowy pictures in Norwegian forests. Instead, they appear as just contemplative dudes who make black metal.1 The question, though: does the black metal quality speak for itself?

Anael is a German quartet with a respectable discography in its twenty-two-year existence. Amassing three full-lengths, an EP, and a couple of splits in the aural presentation of the four elements, 2021 sees these volks’ first full-length in thirteen years, the watery Mare. Abstract and subtle artwork graces a complex and unpredictable listen: while undeniably blackened in low-end tremolo, raspy growls, and resounding percussion, it also features challenging rhythms and abrupt nearly mathy shifts. What results at its best is an organic, oxymoronically tasteful chaos of an album,2 well-written and knowledgeable in its ebb-and-flow songwriting, that is nevertheless undermined by the violent splatter of its assets.

Mare’s unpredictability is its greatest asset, as it reflects the ebb and flow of the tides, seen clearly in tracks like “Odyssey” and “Dreamtide.” The former, while abruptly shifting gears from dreamy to punishing, adhere very strongly to its central riff, making its strange tricks worthwhile. The latter features the most memorable riffs and the most fluid song structure, making good use of transitions from expertly coordinated kickass guitar licks to Agalloch-esque contemplation. “Anachron” features passages of ominous and dissonant plucking and surreal synth, with subtle riffs playing with underlying melody, while “The Darkness Within” features hypnotic use of sprawling repetition, making its wonky synth passages seem much more dreamlike. Mare’s production is of note, as Anael’s riffs feature a rawness while still carrying weight, while bass is audible underneath and synth overlays add just enough to the atmosphere.

Mare’s unpredictability also happens to be its greatest weakness. While its highlights utilize good use of chaos and grinding, shifting passages of heavy and dreamy tones, tracks can feel nearly painful in their disjointed nature. “The Glass People” and “Sophia” are the most guilty, as the riffs derail under the weight of off-key melodies while chord progressions simply feel too cheery (almost pop-punk) alongside the grim atmosphere. That aside, Mare’s reception will vary from person to person, as the jarring lack of transitions can either appear calculatingly unhinged or obnoxiously blundering. While each individual passage Anael tosses at us is competent in its own right, Mare has a potential to feel like a Frankenstein’s monster, entirely composed of black metal stereotypes stitched together haphazardly. Its forty-three minute runtime also doesn’t do it any favors, as it grows wearisome by the beginning of “Dreamtide,” no thanks to the two weakest tracks back-to-back in the middle of the album.

Does Anael’s black metal quality speak for itself? I’m not sure. Truthfully, Mare is an extremely difficult album to score. Its unpredictable, nearly mathy, interpretation of the blackened arts adheres to the watery grave of its theme, but I can’t help but feel that its low points suggest lack of identity. Anael’s discography-long exploration of the four elements is ambitious, but has not allowed these Germans to hone in on one particular style, and in many ways Mare is a casualty. It’s a splattering album, moist and colossal in right and wrong ways, a blessing and a curse, and in many ways a disjointed carpet-bombing of black metal clichés. At its best in “Odyssey” and “Dreamtide,” given the spastic timing shifts and abrupt tone blasts, it’s a humbly unique take of surreal atmosphere, neat riffs, and dissonant melodies. At its worst in “The Glass People” and “Sophia,” Mare is an off-key, jarring, and borderline painful listen. Ultimately, Anael’s Mare is utterly baffling and ultimately middling.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Review: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Into Endless Chaos Records
Releases Worldwide: February 4th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. They do have bullet belts, however.
  2. Like a sloppy joe.
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