Lebensnacht – The Realm Beyond Review

Movie Night at the AMG office is frequently a tense affair. Trying to find a flick that suits the trekkies, the Lord of the Rings nerds, the horror fanatics, and the indie snobs is a tough task. After drawing the long straw, the choice for this month’s movie fell to Doc Grier. We were expecting “Alien” (for the 14th time), or “The Thing.” But he surprised us with a weirder movie entirely: Pretty Woman, the update of Pygmalion, starring Julia Roberts as a sex worker who must adapt to life in the upper classes after capturing Richard Gere’s wealthy heart. In one scene, she must eat an escargot using unusual cutlery. After losing control, one goes flying off to the nearby waiter, at which she smiles and exclaims, “Slippery little sucker…” This line (which Grier and Holdeneye found hilarious) came to mind when I was listening to Lebensnacht’s latest album, The Realm Beyond. Billed as atmospheric black metal, there’s actually a whole lot more going on here, rendering it a far more complicated experience than the genre tag would have you believe. But, like the album cover (is it a bird? A snake?), it’s also difficult to get a good handle on.

The Realm Beyond is the second album from Germany’s Lebensnacht, a German duo, which has been active since 2008. They specialize in mid-paced, atmospheric BM, with a heavy emphasis on ethereal synthesizers, like early Wolves in the Throne Room or Lustre. This is all mashed together in an incredibly raw and harsh mix. Where Lebensnacht differs from many other bands is the strong depressive black metal element that pervades its work, providing an ominous air to the music. This takes a bit of getting used to, and may frustrate those looking for a typical, unchallenging, atmoblack fix. Similarly, the otherworldly synths will perplex those looking to simply wallow in misery and despair. This refusal to pigeonhole itself makes the album much more diverse than some contemporaries, and the weird combination is both interesting and challenging.

 

Those vocals, though. Most atmo-black features howled vocals that are usually buried deep (and I mean DEEP) in the mix. The reason is that the shrieks are a distraction to the atmosphere if they’re too loud, so this is overcome by just making them another instrument. Lebensnacht has taken the blueprint, but subverted it, bringing the vocals to the very front. In addition, they’re of the wailed, tortured, depressive variety. While certainly unique, these are incredibly harsh, even by BM standards, and often overshadow the music. “The Evil That is Men” has a great melody, but this is buried beneath the avalanche of tortured wails. The vocals distract rather than enhance. The album, sadly, is therefore at its most compelling when there are just instruments and the music is given space to breathe, as in “Ravens Flight Over the Northlands.” Harsh vocals have a place, but they’re not utilized correctly here.

The Realm Beyond really comes to life when it jazzes up. There’s a real energy to songs like “Ravens Flight Over the Northlands” and “Entering the Realm Beyond,” both of which successfully manage to combine the ethereal and the vicious. The songs themselves are often unexpectedly complex, with subtle shifts in melody and pacing that only reveal themselves upon multiple listens. “Fallen Soul Under a Pale Star” deftly hops between furious blast beats and gentle instrumentals in a compelling, interesting way. It’s just a pity that a lot of the subtlety is lost to the raw production. It does the music no favors, giving the guitars a weird, tinny sound that leeches them of power, while obliterating the bass. Like the vocals, it detracts from the experience.

The Realm Beyond is a tough album to score because there’s so much here to admire. It takes real risks, not just in its unusual combination of styles, but in its complex and unpredictable songwriting. This is a collection that grows with each listen. Unfortunately, the poor production and incredibly harsh, over-emphasized vocals mean that most people simply won’t get that far. That is a pity. With so many copy-cats out there, original, challenging albums are a precious commodity. But sometimes, they’re simply too slippery for their own good, and get away from the very audience they’re trying to entice. This is the fate of the poor escargot in Pretty Woman, and sadly, The Realm Beyond.1


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Naturmacht Productions
Website: naturmachtproductions.bandcamp.com/album/the-realm-beyond  |  facebook.com/Lebensnacht
Releases Worldwide: March 28th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. From now on the only movie featured will be Steel Dawn. – Steel
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