Membaris – Misanthrosophie Review

I am worried. I find myself in the midst of an unfamiliar situation that I am not sure I am equipped to handle. I’m not talking about the global pandemic—I know I’m not equipped to handle that. No, the situation I’m talking about is that I am staring down the barrel of awarding another 4.0. You need to understand that, when March began, I had awarded a total of three 4.0s across my whole time at AMG. Now, I am very seriously considering awarding a third this fucking month!1 Who am I thinking about awarding it to? Why? And will I actually do it? It seems likely that I will answer most, if not all, of these vaguely interesting questions below.

German duo Membaris have been lurking on the black metal scene since forming in 1999, releasing four full-lengths to date. It’s been eight years, however, since their last outing, Entartet. Whatever founding members Obscurus and Kraal did on their sabbatical, they’ve returned the better for it. Misanthrosophie is a considerably stronger, more nuanced, and better-crafted record than Entartet (not, I should add, that Entartet was terrible; it was simply wholly unremarkable). At the core of Membaris’ sound is blistering black metal, recalling the likes of Sinmara. Across Misanthropsophie’s not inconsiderable 54-minute runtime, however, Membaris have the confidence—and competence—to do a lot more besides the blast beats, trem-picked leads and harsh rasped vocals. Misanthrosophie see them toying with prog-leaning solos worthy of my last 4.0, Neck of the Woods (see back end of “Nebel Haras,” for example, and “Constant Companion”), going full acoustic, worthy of something like ROSK (“The Only Reason to Stay”) and introducing unexpectedly emotive, if rough, clean vocals (“My Path of Stars”).

Indeed, the vocals on Misanthrosophie—which go back and forth between German and English and are handled by both members, often multi-tracked with a fair amount of echo—are one of the highlights of the record for me. I can already see they will not be everyone’s tastes, with a few (perhaps overly-)dramatic flourishes. The variety of delivery, ranging from traditional BM rasps, through drawn-out DSBM screams to spoken word, disturbing chanting and the sparing cleans, conveyed a raw, churning emotion that kept me coming back. The other thing that really stood out is the sense of melody that runs throughout what Membaris are doing here. It ebbs and flows across the record but from the heaviest, harshest moments of opener “Architektur fern Struktur” to the acoustic folksiness of “The Only Reason to Stay,” there is an ever-present mournful and melodic edge to Misanthrosophie, that is sometimes bubbling on the surface, at other times buried so deep it’s almost lost. But its always there.

Does everything Membaris attempt on Misanthrosophie work? Well, pretty much actually. Although I would normally be inclined to say that a black metal record nudging close to the hour mark was likely in need of trimming, that’s not the case here. Membaris have not given in to the temptation of many atmospheric BM acts and penned four sprawling “compositions;” Misanthrosophie comprises nine tracks, the longest of which is 9:14, the shortest 3:16, with most somewhere in the middle. While the backbone of the record is black metal, there’s more than enough variation, melody, and atmosphere to carry the length, and by the time the stunning closer, “Aus tiefen Empor,” wraps, I just find myself wanting more. As I hinted above, there are a few points where the vocals are overdone, and will likely grate on some, but it doesn’t happen enough to bother me. I also have few qualms about the sound on Misanthrosophie. The production lets the music breathe, giving Membaris a rounded sound, allowing leads to soar, drums to batter, and vocals to rip. My only criticism would be the cymbals, which at times sound clipped and tinny.

You’ve probably guessed it: despite my best efforts, I couldn’t Holden myself back and I’m going with that 4.0. While Misanthrosophie is not a genre-defining record, it’s a great one and that, according to the scale in the sidebar, is quite literally the definition of a 4.0 here at AMG Towers. The skill with which Membaris move between moods and the fact that I keep eagerly returning to this record, despite—perhaps even because of—its 54-minute runtime, convinced me that anything else would have been to do it a disservice.2

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: W.T.C. Productions
Releases Worldwide: March 24th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. The other two being Canis DirusIndependence to the Beast —an album that has, confusingly, still failed to be released—and Neck of the WoodsThe Annex of Ire.
  2. You’re an overrating bastard! – Steel
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