Amenra – Mass V – 99%

My love for post-metal is no secret, but I’m also somewhat picky about it. Most of the stuff that falls into this category that’s more on the “djent” (I hate that word so much) end of things is not my cup of tea. The other tricky aspect for me is vocals. When it comes to vocals in post-metal bands (and most metal bands in general, really), it’s really easy for bands to go wrong in my opinion. Picky picky, I know. There’s a lot of aspects that, to me, make a great post-metal/sludge/whatever record, and it’s hard to get them all together in one release most of the time. This makes for a lot of good to pretty good records, but very few that are really great.

My point in all of this is that ‘Mass V’, the long awaited new album from Belgian masters Amenra is absolutely, without hesitation, a really, really great record. The Neurosis comparisons are going to be obvious, perhaps even more so given that this is the band’s first release on Neurot Recordings, and the band has no qualms wearing their influence on their sleeve (they once said that without Neurosis, they “might not have even existed at all”). The fact remains that any band treading these same sludgy waters will automatically be compared to Neurosis, that’s just a given. Rather than emulating the forerunners of the genre, however, Amenra have grown and matured into an entirely separate beast, and this album truly shows that.

The first track, “Dearborn and Buried”, sets the pace for the album, and really shows (as does the entire album, really) how incredibly talented Amenra is as a band – the song is crafted so well that by the time it ends, you’ve failed to notice at all that 9 minutes and 15 seconds have just passed. It’s slow, dark, brooding, and hypnotic, but there’s an intensity and energy here. One that, in my opinion, surpasses anything Neurosis accomplished on their latest album, showing full well what Amenra is capable of. Jumping back a bit to my criticism of vocals, Colin H. van Eeckhout absolutely nails it. When I hear a band like this, performing music that is borderline apocalyptic, I want intensity in the vocals. There’s a full on sense of mania and terror in his vocals, and it plays off of the music so very well.

“Boden” follows, and is an absolutely crushing track. The mood created here is one of tension, and the guitars and vocals blend together in a cacophony of dread. The songs slows pace a bit, with a soft spoken word part, which is then met by an immense wall of doom heavy guitar riffs. This is one of the standout moments on the album to me, and shows just how well Amenra know how to create a scene with music. The following track, “A Mon Ame”, carries on at a much more quiet, droning pace for the first 6 minutes or so, with sparse, haunted vocals barely recognizable amongst the fog. Once the track hits the 6 minute mark, things get heavier for a bit, before slowing back down to another lonely sounding quiet moment, accompanied this time by nearly whispered vocals. As the guitars build back up, it’s an incredibly tense, desolate scene that they’ve laid forth. This is perhaps where Amenra bears the most resemblance to Neurosis, though again, it’s in no way a copycat scenario. It’s simply one great band acknowledging the mastery of another.

In what strikes me as almost a nod to their predecessors, the final track on the album, “Nowena | 9:10” features guest vocals from Neurosis’ own Scott Kelly. After the clean vocal intro, Kelly’s growl provides a great counterpart to the frantic screams of van Eeckhout. The main difference between this track and the other 3 on the album is that once the intro gives way to the explosion of anguish that follows, it never lets up. Where the other tracks had their ups and downs, “Nowena | 9:10” barrels straight through. This is end-of-the-world music, pure and simple. There’s just a feeling of the world burning down evident without any knowledge of the lyrics here, and once you decipher “Novena burns for my brothers at night, a flame that burns the bodies of light” and “Brothers burn, I see the fire in their eyes”, that feeling is cemented.

The final few minutes of the record consist of a crushing repetitive riff and van Eeckhout’s screams, fading out into oblivion. If I had one gripe with this record, it’s that I wish it was longer. Amenra is so incredibly talented at crafting songs that grab you and pull you in that, once this album’s 41 minutes are over, you can’t help but to be left wanting to hear more. All I can do (aside from have it on repeat, which I have been doing quite a bit) is hope that we don’t have to wait another 4 years for a new album. I’ll also keep my fingers crossed for a US tour, as an Amenra live show is absolutely breathtaking. I can’t recommend this album enough (it’s worth mentioning that the vinyl version features different artwork, additional sounds, and alternative mixes), and if you get the chance to see them live, my recommendation is just as strong.

Available on CD for $14 from Neurot Recordings

Available on vinyl (2xLP) for $24, also from Neurot Recordings