Sound — 8
It can be a rather interesting experience observing a band change from one particular musical path to another. Often, it leads to a lot of change that extends beyond just music, where entire spheres of fans and influence can expand or collapse in a startling manner. It's also an interesting thing to note that inside the metal world, very few scenes exemplify this phenomena more than Norwegian black metal.
Some notable examples: Ulver, Enslaved and pretty much all of Ihsahn's career. Manes are a band from a very similar place in time, and even started around the same period as the aforementioned groups with the same sort of so-called "second wave" black metal musical style. And again, much like the aforementioned groups, it only took them a few proper releases to change their approach drastically.
So what exactly is this album? A very curious hybrid of genres, but black metal is most definitely not one of them. From opening track "A Deathpact Most Imminent," you're introduced to this rather relaxed and roomy clean guitar groove, draped in space and accompanied by sombre vocal lines. It immediately put me to mind of the atmosphere of doom metal bands such as Warning and 40 Watt Sun, without the distortion. What made it a rather unique first few minutes was the little bits and pieces that followed: the rather nicely harmonized guitar riffs, fuzzy synth bass and complex drum sequences that kept building on top of each other in a post-rock fashion. Kind of curious, but I felt like it moved me in some way.
It felt like there was something there that I couldn't quite put my finger on, so pressing onto track 2, something I could only describe as "the essence of '80s post-punk" kind of started coming through. The track in question, "Ars Moriendi," has two distinct moods, but they both overlap in strange ways: one was the heavy, groovy, tension-building electronic part and the other being the minor key, Killing Joke-esque spacious verses. Strangely, this is also the rare instance where there's something even remotely like a typical black metal melody/chord progression, it makes the song rather dark compared to the first.
And then when you get deeper, this kind of "mellow glitch rock" pulls out some twists and turns, such as the strange Gorillaz like feel of the disorienting "A Safe Place in the Unsafe," the almost modern-spy-thriller feel of the heavy "Free as in Free to Leave" (definitely a stronger track on the album), and the more personal and Katatonia-esque "The Nature and Function of Sacrifice" being tasty highlights. I guess the albums mood could aptly be described as moody, not quite melancholic but the mostly minor key songs and gentle melodies can potentially put forward that sort of atmosphere.
Production is spot on here. Despite the electronic elements playing a significant role in the texture work of the music, the tropes are not there, instead they electronic elements are pushed a little further back into the mix and aren't harsh on the ears. It works seamlessly into the human instrumentation. The guitar tones don't really impress, but they work with the mix and the harmonies, little to be said about them really. The drums and vocals are both subjected to very tasteful amounts of reverb and room space, giving a much more massive feel to them and to the music. A good example is on "Name the Serpent," which is a really powerful arena rock piece.
Lyrics — 7
One of the key parts of any atmosphere in guitar based music is often how the singer compliments said mood. Tommy Halseth is our main guy here, and strangely enough, his voice and vocal style tends to be rather diverse. On some song's such as "The Nature and Function...," his voice is very mellowed and low in register, almost Johnny Cash-like but if Johnny Cash was Norwegian (note the almost), but other times its rather powerful and soars above the main band, such as on "Name the Serpent," again evoking a rather '80s post-ish feel in melody and style, even a little bit of R.E.M. can be heard in places. Sometimes, he adopts a twisted version of Damon Albarn's relaxed croon such as on "Blanket of Ashes." It's a strange voice but it works given the almost genre-less musical backdrop.
Lyrics seem to deal with rather complexly penned topics with no real defining story line between each track, but often the lyrics tend to be rather personal and introspective dependent on the song, "A Deathpact Most Imminent" referencing the emotional damage to a human mind and body for instance. Quite fitting for the music, if a little vague in intent at times. There's not much of what I'd call "catchy," although alongside the music, the vocal parts tend to be fairly memorable given their space in the mix.
Overall Impression — 8
I'm not really sure what I was expecting when I went into this album. The artwork seemed strangely awful given how many br00tz goregrind bands often just use chopped up bits of human body jpegs (that's an album name if ever there was one), but the font style and placement reminded me of Ihsahn's "Das Seelenbrechen," an album that has some musical connections to "Be All End All," and this kept my intrigue up. I have to say, it's quite a unique and release, but its also indicative of how Norway seems to be exporting more than just black metal. Alongside Ulver, it's easier to see that there's much more creativity going around in the scene than would appear otherwise, and it deserves a listen based purely on that, if nothing else.
But even so, the album is good enough that it needn't be elevated on that novelty alone. Shame it's apparently their final release, boohoo. So, if you're piqued by slow-rolling, layered and atmospheric rock tinged with electronica, doom metal, a hint of jazz, trip-hop and '80s post-punk, give this thing a whirl.
Songs to look out for: "A Deathpact Most Imminent," "Broken Fire," "Free as in Free to Leave," "The Nature and Function of Sacrifice."