One of my favorite subjects in any form of media is the end of the world. There is an indescribable (and perhaps sadistic) pleasure I gain from witnessing people grapple with the prospect of the complete obliteration of their species and its history; the more micro the focus, the better. Zooming in on a select few and examining how they choose to spend their final, consequence-free hours feels like the purest hypothetical exploration of the human psyche. This is what atmospheric black metal duo Manetheren, hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, hopes to capture on their conceptual fifth LP The End: the musings of a lone wanderer, trekking across the disintegrating landscape, represented in aural form. Much like Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia, it’s a starkly beautiful piece of media with impeccable atmosphere, yet it’s not without its share of flaws or a bloated run time.
Manetheren’s take on black metal possesses surprising depth, but at first blush, The End feels a bit safe. On a structural level, it travels the beaten path of laid-back riffing paired with brisk drum blasting favored by the likes of Winterfylleth, but patient listeners who dig a bit deeper will find some truly intriguing texturing at work. This is because, in lieu of keyboards, Manetheren utilizes guitar modulation to create a surprisingly diverse array of sounds. It has the same effect as adding a totally unique, otherworldly instrument to the mix, akin to some abstract celestial horns calling the earth back to the dust of the cosmos from whence it was spawned. As a result, The End’s atmosphere is utterly convincing and comes across less as a representation of the chaos of a doomed world than a meditation born from the acceptance of imminent annihilation. Thanks to the surprising clarity of multi-instrumentalist Azlum’s rasping vocals, these musings captivate on a verbal level as well.
Manetheren’s aura is totally captivating, but they fall a bit short in the songwriting department on a few fronts. The most obvious drawback here is that, for all its heavy atmosphere, The End really doesn’t stray from genre conventions in terms of riff structuring. The basic tremolo runs can follow some interesting note progressions, but the performances themselves, while absolutely competent for the style, are lacking in technicality. There is also a distinct lack of variety here, resulting in tracks that, though varying slightly in tone, tend to blend together when listening to the record front to back. The uniform compositions wouldn’t be as much of an issue in a more concise package, but here they make The End’s hour length feel even longer. I still enjoy the album in its entirety, but it would be a more pleasurable experience if there were a few surprises to accompany the impeccable ambiance.
While the tracks are a bit monotonous, Manetheren gives each song an effective sense of flow by fluctuating between 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures every few minutes. These transitions are slipped in so subtly and skillfully as to always sound natural, and provide the otherwise straightforward song structures with a touch of complexity. It also helps that, despite a predictably loud master, The End is fairly well produced; the bass shines through without being overly obtrusive (and never settles for parroting the melody of the rhythm guitar), and the drums (performed by current Blut Aus Nord drummer Thorns) are toned down in the mix to suit the band’s heavily atmospheric approach. I’m also surprised at how adaptable the lead guitar tone is; while it’s thick and droning in the lower registers, it sounds like rapid laser fire during high-pitched tremolo runs. This is best exemplified in the massive closing title track, where the machine gun riffs feel as though they’re chipping away at the last remnants of the dying earth.
While those searching for something visceral and instrumentally complex in a black metal record will likely be disappointed by this release, patient listeners should find a satisfyingly introspective offering in The End. Manetheren has successfully utilized unconventional atmospherics to effectively accompany their bleak concept in a record that, though a slave to genre conventions and undoubtedly overlong, is an ultimately memorable experience. If you’re in the mood for a solitary walk through the streets at night to contemplate the deteriorating state of our own non-fictional realm, give The End a go. It should serve as a suitable companion.