Eyeless in Gaza – Act I: The Protagonist Review

Band names are important. They can often tell you a lot about a band or artist. Of course, the music matters most but I will frequently, while plumbing the murkier depths of Bandcamp, stick on a track purely on the strength of a band’s name. That is how I came to find Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean, for example. Conversely, a poor name can be a big negative, although, as Gazpacho demonstrate, a stellar band can rise above a terrible moniker. Every now and again though, I stumble across something I want to like simply because of the name. And that is how I feel about Eyeless in Gaza. Going in, I knew nothing about them—or him, I should say—other than the name but I had an image of a bleak and depressive soundscape, painted in mournful brushstrokes. Have I been fooled by Eyeless in Gaza’s mastermind, Franklin Avetisyan, or will the one-man Armenian doom project do what it suggests on the tin?

Act I: The Protagonist opens on its 20-minute title track and does so in gentle fashion, with delicate acoustic strumming that has a Middle Eastern or perhaps Spanish feel to it. Eyeless in Gaza then gradually builds in further elements as minimalist percussion and extra strings are introduced. Almost 4 minutes in, one might be forgiven for wondering where this is going but then, with no warning, a guttural roar, double tracked with almost black metal rasps, knocks the breath out of you. Beneath the vocal tumult, the acoustic strings continue their delicate melody and then we’re treated again to a few minutes respite, as Avetisyan’s fragile, almost reedy clean vocals are introduced. The riffs begin to build once more and eventually break over us in waves of fuzzed, glacially slow doom but at no point across the 20 minute run of “The Protagonist” is the underlying melody abandoned. The track ebbs and flows, sometimes majoring on harsh doom, sometimes leaning on its acoustic notes and clean vocals, but underpinning it all is a beautiful, gentle melody.

Forgive me for dedicating a whole paragraph to one song but, as Act I: The Protagonist’s highlight (and nearly half its entire runtime), “The Protagonist” merits it. As we move into “Maelstrom,” Eyeless in Gaza takes on a dreamy, almost hypnotic quality, until a drum beat slams into you, followed a split second later by those guttural vocals and a melodic, darkly atmospheric riff. Eyeless in Gaza builds layers and movements within both “The Protagonist” and “Maelstrom” that wash over you before receding again, almost apologetically, and are suggestive of a struggle flowing back and forth. After a menacingly oppressive slow-burn intro to “Mournful Unconcern,” it opens up into the album’s heaviest cut, with an almost symphonic doom grandeur to its sound. “Madrigal,” clocking in at a puny 2 minutes, is a percussion-free, wistful, sorrowful way to close out the record.

Eyeless in Gaza’s debut is a study in somber moods, alternating between doom-inspired grandeur and stripped back acoustic melodies. Without ever hitting the all-enveloping heaviness of a Slow, Act I: The Protagonist manages to convey much the same forlornness in moments, while at others it’s a pensive, contemplative beast. This has the mesmerizing aspects of Unreqvited layered onto the desolation of Amenra. For all its strengths and undeniable beauty though, it has its drawbacks. Act I: The Protagonist is too long to carry the ideas on which it’s built. “The Protagonist” is a gorgeous beast of a track but when “Maelstrom” also nudges a quarter of an hour in length, at least half of which is ambient drone, it starts to feel a bit light on content. The album also feels slightly like it peters out with “Madrigal,” for while there is nothing wrong with that track, it also adds little to the record and is a somehow disappointing way to leave the story Eyeless in Gaza wove at the beginning.

I found Act I: The Protagonist a hard record to ultimately come to a view on. The sheer emotional weight it generates is incredible but it simultaneously manages to dilute this through the length of the first two tracks (a combined 34 minutes), which—particularly “Maelstrom”—are overly reliant on ambience and repetition. I like what most of what Eyeless in Gaza does and love some of it, while the vocal versatility and musical vision of its creator are undeniable. But this is not quite the finished article.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Solitude Productions
Website: facebook.com/eyelessingazadoom
Releases Worldwide: May 29th, 2020

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