Sound — 8
Having previously been involved in the hardcore punk scene with their former band Spineless, Colin H. van Eeckhout and Mathieu Vandekerckhove sought to take their music style to a more elaborate level in their current band, Amenra. Trading off the speedy punk demeanor for slower, heavier, and more atmospheric songwriting, Amenra's denser sound sits on an enigmatic intersection between post-hardcore, doom metal, post-metal, and sludge metal, which has steadily gained a following in their home country of Belgium and beyond.
In Amenra’s more recent albums within the past ten years, there's been more noticeable differences in the band's songwriting approach. Whereas 2008's "Mass IIII" was built on more bona fide riffs and instrumental energy that leaned more towards the slow side of post-hardcore, 2012's "Mass V" played more to the band's doom/post-metal side, only containing four bulky tracks that all reached past the 9-minute mark, and had musical moments that brought to mind the likes of Black Sabbath, Tool, and Melvins.
Five years after that, Amenra change up a few things once again in their sixth album, "Mass VI." Still sticking to the lengthy track sizes, the band's sound boasts even more dynamic gravitas this time around, with heavier metal crests and softer interludes overall. With the placid post-rock guitar textures leading in "Children Of The Eye" before dropping into the slogging chords of thick distortion and screaming vocals, the band's wall-of-sound nature is emphasized even further in following tracks, with black metal-esque tremolo layers bellowing bleakly in "Spijt," and "Plus Près De Toi," which later settle down into delicate guitar melodies and tranquil clean vocals.
Though the slower and steadier tempos and lack of feedback usage indicates Amenra stepping away from their post-hardcore characteristics, "Mass VI" does have more concrete riffs compared to the post-metal output of their previous album. Along with some of Levy Seynaeve's bass riffing providing a bit of variation to things in "Children Of The Eye" and "Plus Près De Toi," the guitars show off more memorable moments in the tail end of the album, whether in the hammer-on, pull-off riff that acts as a motif in "A Solitary Reign," or the dominant, melodic tremolo riffing in the final "Diaken."
Lyrics — 7
Continuing to be an element obscured by the music it accompanies, Amenra's lyrics in "Mass VI" are sparse, but worldly and cryptic. Along with a couple of tracks only containing spoken word vocals in the band's native Dutch language ("Edelkroone" translates to "noble crown," and "Spijt" translates to "regret"), van Eeckhout also sings in French in "Plus Près De Toi," its title meaning "closer to you." But in the cases where van Eeckhout's singing in English, his laconic phrases still get the job done of expressing the pain of loneliness, heard in "A Solitary Reign" ("Sing me the flames of night / And for years I live / A solitary reign") and "Diaken" ("Still keep my eyes closed... memories dissolve / I'm alone again / I open my eyes / I'm alone again").
Overall Impression — 8
As Amenra get close to the 20-year mark as a band, it's no surprise that these later years have resulted in their songwriting growing more dirgy and mature as a whole. "Mass VI" is a direct testament to that sonic trajectory, where the band's slow-burning output of cacophonous crests and desolately gentle nadirs cast the album in a shade darker than previous records. And though it's additional effort to include some riffs that stand out from the trudging wall-of-sound moments don't totally rehash the livelier, riff-centric nature of earlier albums, it's a tweak that helps "Mass VI" from becoming an amorphous post-metal blur.