Thursday, April 11, 2013

Amiensus - Restoration (2012)

What drives a lot of the innate dynamism in metal comes down to elemental disparity, and this is a lesson that Amienses have taken to heart in crafting their debut album, Restoration. Similar in fundamental aesthetic to bright, snowy entities such as Wintersun, Borknagar, and the up-and-coming Xanthochroid, theirs is a landscape of semi-blackened beauty, where violent, desolate riffs are punctuated by gleaming streams of melody and aching cleans. Amiensus reside more on the calmer, fundamentally accessible side of this well-wrought dichotomy, with a panache and talent that belies their relative youth, conveying a good degree of passion through these somber, naturalistic compositions. If at times it all felt too structurally simple, with an overreliance on repetitious catchy choruses, there are still some really good songs, hopefully liable to ingratiate them to a sizeable fanbase. Unfortunately, their sound is a bit too ‘scene’ to be rightly appreciated by the more traditional black metal barons, but more forgiving, pop-friendly extreme metallers will find a lot to like.

What cannot be downplayed when considering all potent aspects of Restoration is the meticulous gravitas in its adherence to memorable melody. Moreover, these brain-pleasing lines are often hewn into a thick-as-fog atmosphere, composed of the distilled essences of their cumulative awe and despair. That makes this album perhaps sound more epic and perfect than the reality of it, however, as I stated there is a propensity towards structural simplicity and choral repetition, often of lines that may be too sugary to your average maven of extreme metal to appreciate. And truly, I did not like some of the choruses here, which felt almost too sweet, existing in defiance of what is otherwise very good music. Millenium, particularly, which features vocals from Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams (who also produced), is a song I found at continual odds with itself, where strong, riff-driven darkness exists in jarring juxtaposition with the candy-sweet, sentimental chorus. The stylistic choices of these types of moments ironically clash with the basic idea of accessibility, since extremists will find them off-putting, but the relative sophistication and density of the rest of their material will likely be beyond the appreciation of the average metalcore crowds, as well. Restoration is a beautiful conundrum.

Aside from a decent list of examples such as this, I found the record pleasing. It passes through storm and subsides, enveloped by an array of growls, howls, and persistent emotional cleans. The album secedes to a too-prevalent calmness in its second half, but there is no shortage of soulful licks or atmospheric pulses at any given moment. At 40 minutes, it’s not particularly long, and I’d have liked to hear some more progressive attempts from Amiensus, but what’s here is varied and mostly entertaining.  The production is laudable, both clear and warm, and it’s worth noting that one can hear the influence of Abigail Williams in many musical aspects. That’s surely a condemnation for some people, but I would be remiss to dismiss it to you based on those bounds. It says a lot about their ability that I like them despite the choruses drenched in emo-core sensibilities.

It’s tough to know who to recommend this to, to be honest. I’ve expounded on an array of negative aspects because they’re so forefront and frustrating within an album that I feel could have been great. I think Amiensus have the degree of skill, passion, and songwriting ability to write a potentially brilliant album, if only they could learn to mesh their clashing realms of tonality into a more seamless whole. Dialing up the intensity and scaling down the corn-syrup content the choruses are clearly mainlining would work wonders. Still, Restoration is worth a listen for more open-minded fans of melodic black metal, as it has some moments of genuine awesomeness that bear repeating multiple times (mostly in the first half). It feels like the kid brother of a great like Borknagar, just entering his teens, still high on the developmental phase of radio-rocking youth, but attempting to play his bro’s kind of metal nevertheless, nailing some aesthetic wonder without fully understanding the core concept. I state this not with condescension, but a level of encouraging admiration for such a generally strong first step, and a genuine interest at witnessing the next step in Amiensus’ evolution. 

 7 / 10 - Like Ashen Memories