Music is a lot like food. Both are nourishing: food for the body and music for the spirit. There’re no accounting for taste, but there’s semi-predictable consensuses (consensi?), such as nu-metal and tofurkey are both hellspawn that should be scorched from the face of the Earth. Sometimes you feel in the mood for a big, luxury five-course meal, so you load up Ayreon, sometimes you crave the greasy slop of Vader, and sometimes you prefer a salad so you throw yourself out the sixth-floor window. With all this said, who’s ready for a medium-sized bag of popcorn? It’s only slightly blackened!
Ardent Spirits is a German 5-piece who peddle easily digestible Gothenburgian melodic black metal. Think Catamenia when they still had any black in their metal. The vocalist employs a basic throaty gargle but he’s consistent and diverse enough to be one of the better assets to the band. The album opens with two high-speed tracks, of which “Gears of Time” is the clear winner with its catchy chorus. “Attack” finds the band channeling Amon Amarth, with even the vocalist dropping an octave for the verses, in a fun and unpretentious song. “Nautilus Journey” is a nice and upbeat folky diversion that reminds me of Equilibrium. For the closer, the epic goes up and the speed goes down at first, but it gradually rebuilds velocity with some pretty sweet riffs. It’s neither new nor special but it’s pleasurable low-brow fun. Popcorn.
I did nearly shatter my teeth on the unpopped kernel that is “Silent Whistle” though. A better title would be “Rape Whistle,” as the vocalist kicks down the door with a lecherously snarled “are you waiting for me/oh come on dirty bitch/are you looking for fun” and fills the rest of the song with uncomfortable sexual imagery that in its half-understood state sounds better at home in an R. Kelly song. It’s a ghastly effort that’s best skipped altogether. The instrumental “Soul of the Alchemyst” merely feels like the band had a good riff, but no song to put it in. They use cinema-standard butter in this batch as well, because of the aftertaste of each song is the flavor of disappointment. The tracks don’t so much finish as simply end. Half of them fade out the last riff, like the host of a party turning down the volume to tell his guests it’s time to leave, and the rest just stop dead in their tracks like the stereo was thrown off the table to make room for beer pong.
Problems like these make the record sound rushed and unfinished, and they underline the inexperience of the band. The production doesn’t fare a whole lot better, either: the sound has a prepackaged quality, keeping to industry standard loudness, a slightly thin sound, and a mix that comes across as a “default” setting. Although the band doesn’t set out to do anything new, a smidgen of personality would have been welcome here. As a debut, there’s a lot of room to grow for the band, but it’s hard to give much leeway when we’ve seen so many amazing and original debuts recently.
Popcorn will never be a gourmet meal. Freshly made with good butter, it can be a tasty treat that’s easy to enjoy again and again. Mountain Howl is, unfortunately, a bit stale and has some nagging problems that keep it from that level, but there are enough fun riffs and energetic gallops to keep it from tasting like sweaty jockstraps instead of salted snacks. Ardent Spirits has what it takes to be unstoppable once popped, but with their debut, they aren’t quite there yet.