I’ll admit that I was blissfully unaware of Amenra‘s existence until about a year ago when I read that uber-producer Billy Anderson was due to record their then-upcoming album. While I generally sit up and take notice of anything a luminary like Anderson gets involved with, the tide of great releases already under 2012’s metaphorical belt meant that my hopes for another fantastic album in 2012 were diminishing, and my investment in the project was little more than a vague interest. Released by Neurot Recordings, the Belgium band’s new album Mass V is their fourth full-length, and the latest in a long list of releases that span their nearly decade-long career and it’s exactly the kind of album that will draw you into Amenra’s musical world.
Though the album packs the inevitable punch, it does so without as much focus on the sub frequencies as many of the best heavy releases of 2012 have had. Rather, Mass V is taut – a veritable hotbed of tension and despair that reveals itself through moments of quiet exasperation and uproarious storms of wiry guitars and tortured screams. On first listen the album’s four songs owe a great deal to early-to-mid era Neurosis, the Jesus Lizard and a host of 90’s post-rock, post-hardcore royalty. But there is also a hypnotic air amongst the clamour, a kind of droning groove that also ties the band’s sound to sludge and doom. Second track ‘Boden’ illustrates this perfectly; after a lengthy meditative section characteristic of post-rock, the band kicks in with a familiar, almighty doom rhythm thus weaving the two genres seamlessly.
The post-rock feel continues on devastating final track ‘Nowena I 9.10’ which starts with an unflinching, intimate melodic sing-speak vocal style that recalls Slint’s Brian McMahan, Colin H. Van Eeckhout delivering the line “Look into my eyes, there’s no better place to hide” with a suitable sense of vulnerability. Then a moment of calm lures you into a sense of security before a tidal wave of emotionally-charged guitar and shrieking vocals swallow you whole. While each of the four tracks distinguish themselves from one another they’re best enjoyed and appreciated as a whole suite, and almost seem to flow into one another without cross-fading trickery. Rather, this is by virtue of their tense nature – you won’t know if a pause in the action signals a gap between tracks or a lure into a calm state before another aural attack.
As I said, through my own ignorance I wasn’t expecting much from Mass V – hype so often kills an album or a band and in my case I just had no idea what to expect. To my delight what I got was a fantastic album that felt like it was over too soon. Only 4 songs long, and averaging about ten minutes each, my only criticism is that there aren’t more tracks for me to enjoy. But the album is actually well-paced and structured to facilitate an enjoyable listening experience without ever testing patience or pushing the envelope too far. From humble beginnings (in my mind), Mass V is the last great album of 2012 – shove that in your stocking.
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin