The “beauty and the beast” vocal aesthetic is no new trick in the book when it comes to producing a compelling metal album. Since the early days of Paradise Lost, The Gathering, and Theatre of Tragedy‘s trendsetting self-titled debut, a myriad of metal bands have contrasted aggressive male growls with ethereal or operatic female vocals to sweeping success. One of my favorite examples of this is when Theatre of Tragedy‘s Nell Sigland stepped in for guest vocals on Dark Tranquillity‘s “The Mundane and the Magic.” While some argue that this technique has been done to death, I’m still wholeheartedly a fan of “beauty and the beast” vocals when well executed. The way the voice of the beauty complements and dances around harsher “beast” vocals has the potential to make for a truly tender and emotional listening experience. Thus, when I learned that South African post-metal band Constellatia elicited the help of vocalists Alison Rachel of Honeymoan and renowned singer/songwriter Lucy Kruger to complete the beauty and the beast package, I felt compelled to listen.
Formed in Cape Town just over a year ago, Constellatia is the collaborative brainchild of Gideon Lamprecht and Keenan Oakes, founders of South African bands Crow Black Sky and Wildernessking, respectively. After a mere fourteen months together, Constellatia is ready to release The Language of Limbs, their debut album. I breathed a sigh of relief after sitting down with the thirty-five minutes of Constellatia‘s debut a number of times; I am overall pleased with their tasteful take on “beauty and the beast” vocals. Though I must admit that Keenan’s gruff growls grated my ears at first, I have slowly but surely grown more accustomed to his especially gravelly black metal bellows and shrieks even though I am still not fully on board with them. What makes his voice tolerable, for me, is the way Alison and Rachel’s delicate and whispery croons caress Keenan’s vocals without commanding too much attention.
Consisting of just four tracks, The Language of Limbs, is “an album about obsession and overcoming,” reveals Keenan. The fact that the album served as an emotional outlet for both Gideon and Keenan is clearly demonstrated by the level of intensity frequently surging and abating throughout the album. As a result, not once during its entirety did I feel disengaged. Pummeling at times and quietly hopeful at others, opening track “All Nights Belong to You” gets straight to it and exhibits Constellatia‘s ability to masterfully bring together black metal, prog metal, and shoegazey atmospherics. The reflective and airy closing minutes left me begging for more. Yet another one of the album’s greatest strengths is its continuity. Second track “In Acclamation” starts out right where the first left off, with uncluttered atmospherics and shadowy synths gently crescendoing out of nowhere. While “Empyrean” is a more traditional sounding atmospheric black metal track with an acoustic outro, “The Garden” ventures back and forth between black metal harshness and a surprisingly sultry, romantic sound.
Normally this is where I would call out my favorite track(s) on the album, but Constellatia make it tough for me here since each song is so darn strong. I love that the last track “The Garden” takes you on a wild, emotional ride, but I also especially enjoy the savage yet 80s synth feel of “In Acclamation” at the 6:30 mark. The clearest factor holding me back from giving The Language of Limbs a higher rating is my unfortunate distaste for the husky croaking vocals which make an appearance on every song on this album. I’ll have to revisit this album again at a later time to see if my reaction to the vocals has changed, for I suspect it might.
For fans of Deafheaven and the heavier side of Alcest, I highly recommend giving Constellatia‘s debut a spin. The Language of Limbs occasionally reminds me of Sylvaine‘s genre-defying Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone, which I love dearly. Both albums are an impressively balanced mix of atmosphere, melody, moodiness, and ferocity. The Language of Limbs is both a beauteous and beastly debut, and I will be anxiously waiting to hear what they have in store next. In the meantime, I’ll be checking out Gideon and Keenan’s other projects to help keep my eagerness at bay.