It is sometimes surprisingly difficult to remember the first time you encountered a particular thing, even when that thing later turns out to be significantly meaningful, or something you really enjoy. Amenra is like that for me, in that I’m not sure when exactly I ran across them first or what led me to it. I do remember that the first exposure I had to them was seeing a video for their song The Pain. It Is Shapeless, which had been set to scenes from E. Elias Merhige’s dark surrealist film Begotten. If you haven’t seen Begotten before, its an extremely intense high contrast black and white art film that begins with a scene in which a god figure seated in a chair is disemboweling itself while vomiting filth. I had seen the film before and was always really drawn to its aesthetic and strangeness. It blew my mind a little that someone had decided to use it as a music video. Then the Amenra song began playing over it and somehow worked as a perfect complement in that moment. So, naturally I dove down the Amenra rabbit hole immediately afterward.
When I had properly digested most of the band’s body of work to that point, I found myself really enthralled with their unique approach to heavy music. Here were stylistic elements of hardcore, crust, post-metal, sludge, and black metal all swirling in a great maelstrom of emotional intensity. Its not that no other bands exist at this kind of nexus of genre influences, its just that none of them pull the threads together in the way that Amenra does. What they do is unique. Their new release, titled Mass VI is no exception.
There is an overall patina of grit and static on the surface of the songs as muscular riffs churn and trudge and then fade into almost nothing, making room for a strangely fragile sound to bloom in the resulting empty space. The band has pushed this a little further with each of the records in the Mass series, and the compositions on Mass VI have brought this idea close to perfection. Vocalist Colin H. VanEeckhout has notably broadened his range to achieve a sound that feels like it has been building toward this exact manifestation for years. His screamed vocals remain shrill and hoarse, steeped in a sense of terrified despair. What shines the most though are his cleanly sung lines, which are evocative of the delicate tones of Sigur Ros and Alcest in many places and add to feelings of authentic longing and vulnerability that seem to suffuse the record.
Musically, Mass VI is everything a fan of Amenra expects from them, only more of it. The songs are richly textured and dynamic, frequently with one guitar line churning forward in an enormous distorted wave, as another clean tone picks out a sparser path beneath it. Just as sections of this threaten to fully overwhelm the listener, the bottom drops out and subdued atmospheric or melodic sections develop, which eventually ascend back into a crushing climax.
Sonically, the record benefits from really excellent production courtesy of longtime collaborator Billy Anderson. Mass VI finds Amenra’s overall sound clarified in some way compared to earlier releases, with every detail in the music discrete and discernible, yet not separate sounding. This has the effect of essentially making the heavy parts heavier and the pretty parts prettier. What more can you ask for really?
The only real drawback for me here is that the entire album is essentially only 4 songs. There are two very short tracks – Edelkroone and Spijt that are merely passages of spoken word, the latter with a short musical interlude attached to the end. Normally tracks like this would seem like filler, but oddly neither of these feel that way. Instead they act as interesting segues, and each one is somehow deeply affecting even when taking into consideration that they are in a language I don’t understand. Though the other tracks clock in at around 40ish minutes of music, when the closing track Daiken abruptly cuts out and silence slips back in, I still find myself wanting to spend more time in the world that this record ushers you into. That’s not a bad thing.
Amenra have created something really special with Mass VI, a record that transcends the band’s past work and is likely to draw admiration from across the spectrum of heavy music. It has been my opinion for a long time that, especially in the US, Amenra is foolishly overlooked as one of the best bands in metal. I have a feeling that will no longer be the case by the time they are ready to release another record.
Release Date: October 20, 2017
Label: Neurot Recordings
Favorite Tracks: Children of the Eye, A Solitary Reign
For Fans Of: Converge, Neurosis, Oathbreaker