Take a gander at The Fifth Alliance‘s new band promo shot below. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? After my first glance, I couldn’t shake the uncanny resemblance of the spotlighted line of band member heads to the Game of Thrones Hall of Faces, a seemingly endless room full of pillars housing the skinned faces of the dead sitting in wait to be wielded by one of the Faceless Men. Too grim of an intro? Perhaps, but I don’t think The Fifth Alliance would think so. A post-metal band from Breda, Netherlands, The Fifth Alliance have been around since 2006 blending dark and mournful doom with blackened sludge. Led by front-woman Silvia Berger, the five-piece are back this year with their deliciously heavy third full-length album, The Depth of the Darkness.
If I had just one word to describe The Depth of the Darkness, it would be slow-burning. As on their previous releases, The Fifth Alliance yet again demonstrate their perfection of a sensual and smoldering tapestry of gritty sound. Eight-minute long intro track “Black” is a stirring piece which begins with an unhurried, grimy guitar. The plodding pace, plaintive aesthetic, and rising mountain of tension are reminiscent of Worm Ouroboros‘s “Broken Movements.” Feathery vocals seep through the fissures in between sludgy guitars and rise like steam in the mix. Three minutes in, Silvia’s vocals take a complete 180. Crazed, possessed, and pained, her voice strikes you at your core and is accompanied by a ruthless outbreak of black metal savagery. Three minutes later, the track ventures back into mellow, doomier territory before coming to a gentle close.
The remaining four tracks on the album are essentially reworkings of the first, if a hair more in the direction of the black metal meets shoegaze sound of Deafheaven or Asira. “Hellfire Club” starts off just like “Black” with mind-numbingly austere and doomy guitars, and “Into Extinction” acts as a deconstructed blackened doom song with its stripped-down tremolo picking and blast beats separated out into easily digestible layers. “Hekate,” the longest song on the album, is logically named after the Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft, the moon, and ghosts. On first listen, the plodding, spectral track lost my attention as it glacially trudged along but the hypnotic, slow swing, layered vocals, and shimmery guitars grew on me after subsequent listens.
Myth has it that Hekate’s role is the guardian of crossroads, evading definition and straddling conventional boundaries. Her polymorphic nature is not particularly symbolic of The Depth of the Darkness due to the lack of variety in the album’s sound and song structure. The Depth of the Darkness is a classic example of a band employing the “same ingredients, different recipe” strategy. What with this being The Fifth Alliance‘s third album, I wish they had experimented with new ingredients for a fresher take this time around so I could arrive at a better descriptor for them than a less dynamic, more chilled out Oathbreaker. I can’t imagine I’m the only fan of theirs starting to chomp at the bit for something new.
Don’t get me wrong, I love The Fifth Alliance‘s sultry sound and aesthetic. Though the new album exhibits too much restraint and doesn’t let loose anything spectacular, their quiet confidence in their sound and mastery of the slow build-up ultimately make this album work for me. The Dutch quintet have found a successful formula and continue to milk it for all it’s worth. They know how to set a mood, and for those interested in experiencing various levels of beautifully melancholic gloom packed into a forty-minute long album, I heavily encourage you to take the plunge and follow The Fifth Alliance into the depths of the darkness.