There are few things that pair with black metal quite like dark ambient, but one of them is folk music. This goes double for the somber folk music of the more frigid Slavic regions. While tried and (sometimes) true acts like Drudkh are around, they aren’t the only stalwart Slavs to play in this sandbox. Enter Russian hybrid act Epitimia, fielding a formula mixing folk, dark ambient, and black metal for four albums now. Like many Russian bands, they smartly write only in their mother tongue (always a positive in my book). But at Angry Metal Guy Headquarters, lyrics are only a small slice in the rankings. How does the actual music hold up?
Thread proved difficult to analyze, for a variety of reasons that compound upon one another, leading to an overall poor record. There are a few positive things to mention before the beatings begin, however. The album weaves quite deftly between its major stylistic divisions, and the ambient and folk elements of the record are generally well-executed, despite the flaws in the black metal side. Relatedly, the all-folk opening track, “Вступление,” is a bright spot and makes for an enjoyable listen, albeit a bit long for what is rather obviously an intro. Album closer “Древо” is also solid, interweaving all three major styles with hooky riffs and vocal lines aplenty, but even this is lacking punch. However, the record’s bookends standing out so strongly put the rest of the record in sharp relief.
This album, to be blunt, is stuffed with filler. All three central tracks are forgettably and regrettably pedestrian in both songwriting and performance, further exacerbated by sloppy production. They’re so boring that they prove difficult to actively pay attention to as part of critical analysis, and unfortunately, the fault here lies entirely with the guitar and drum work. The drums lack purpose or punch, while the tremolo melodies, theoretically the part of a black metal record that should shine brightest, are tragically dull, sliding off the brain like a wet sponge. Further compounding all this is a serious lack of structure to the songwriting, leaving the songs as formless masses bloating the middle space of the record. This stands out worst on the mind-numbing “Немощь,” but is true of the other two as well, albeit less on “Падение,” which primarily suffers from a lack of textural contrast between the acoustic and electric portions of the guitar work. The aforementioned performance issues are even present on small sections of the otherwise excellent “Древо,” but thankfully to a much lesser degree than the meat of the album
While a plurality of the blame for the above problems lies with the musicians, I’m not sure a majority does. The production here is the worst kind of lo-fi hatchet job: muddy, smothered instruments; mixing that’s incompetent at best with horribly buried… well, basically everything but the vocals, and the poor drums crammed in a corner like they did something wrong; a master with tons of room (at DR8) that fails to actually do anything of substance with the space. It’s not all bad, though, as the harsh vocal work is varying kinds of excellent across the album, offering a lovely assortment of snarls, rasps, and shrieks in their turn. The sparsely distributed cleans fare far less well because of the muddy reverb applied to them. Overall, though, the production is atrocious in exactly the way needed to perfectly magnify flaws in the songwriting.
I always question myself when an album falls this flat for me (particularly when it does so by virtue of being impressively boring rather than gross incompetence), but I suppose it’s only natural, given the highly subjective nature of art. Still, Thread does indeed fall extremely flat; with shoddy production and uninspired songcraft, this is firmly in the “skip it” pile.