Label: Ván Records
Saligia are a Norwegian black metal duo who released their debut Sic Transit Gloria Mundi in 2011, followed by the Lvx Aeternae EP in 2013. I enjoyed both of those releases immensely, so I was quite pleased to see that they had released a new full-length and leapt at my first opportunity to give this new one a spin. As soon as the first track started, I was quite perplexed as I wasn’t even sure that this was the same band. It would be a rather significant understatement if I were to say that this album is a departure from the haunting atmosphere that their previous works developed so well.
There are a number of salient departures, but the first one is that the production has moved from a remote one to a proximate one. What I mean is that there are no more hollow cries reverberating in the distance. Now we have a much closer sound, the vocals and instruments are clearer and less washed out. In short, the production is more straightforward with what appear to be fewer effects used to alter the overall sound. Secondly, even though the album is plentiful with their typical fast-tempo riffs, there are plenty of slower, plodding sections with far more punctuated rhythms. Thirdly, the vocals are completely different. At times, they defy categorisation. In places they are closer to hardcore screams, and at other times they are a bizarre mix of blood-curdling screams and high pitched wails, similar to those in the Peste Noire song “Dueil Angoisseus”. Needless to say, it was jarring to hear such strange and out-of-place wailing. Finally, there are significant segments of this album which are completely devoid of any riffs and are merely carried by chord progressions. Now, nearly all metal songs have parts like this: it’s common to hear a song driven by chords during a chorus or a middle-eight where the vocals are the focus of the song. But this album has many parts where riffs are conspicuously absent, to the point that it doesn’t even sound like metal.
Which brings me to the biggest surprise of all, which comes on the track entitled “Voices” wherein we find what is possibly the strangest two-minute stretch of music I have ever encountered on a black metal album, or on any metal album for that matter. The track starts off decently enough with a clean electric guitar slowly played through a flanger of some sort when the song suddenly moves into a more fast-paced sound. Then out of the blue, you hear a campy I-IV-V chord progression. Not power chords though. We’re talking full-on major chords strummed from the top string to the bottom one. In the middle of an ostensibly serious metal album, we hear a strange rendition of the first chord progression everybody learns to play: G-C-D.
And on top of that, the chords are accented with fills comprised of two quavers at major-third intervals, executed like a happy-clappy version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Throw in the wonky vocals and what you end up with is the sound of Pavement playing a Weezer song. Did they pull out their old Sonic Youth CDs when they were stoned and decide that that was the perfect sound to throw in their new album? And just when you think this section might be nearing the end, they go ahead and torture you with the worst and most out-of-tune lead playing ever heard. It makes Clapton’s smacked-out-beyond-belief solo in “Layla” sound like the Berlin Philharmonic playing “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”. It’s as if they were trying to recreate the vocal legacy of Florence Foster Jenkins using only a single string on a guitar. And if that was their intent, they certainly succeeded.
I mean, look, I’m all about trying new things, experimenting with sounds, and pushing the envelope to create something original, but the phrase “oil and water” doesn’t do justice to how badly this fails. It’s as if they were trying desperately to be catchy and energetic but somehow only resulted in amalgamating the worst aspects of the various genres from which they were drawing. But to be fair, that little blip is just a couple minutes long and as weird and incongruous as it may be, it certainly doesn’t dominate the album. That particular track is certainly skippable, but even then that’s almost a fifth of the entire album.
They don’t really do much to redeem themselves on the final track, but it is a large step up from “Voices”. I mean, at this point they could auto-tune their flatulence and end up with a better track than “Voices” but be that as it may, the title track does have some interesting ideas, and ones that I think are well-executed. Still, the it compounds even further the problem of this album as a whole which is, simply put, a dozen too many ingredients in the soup.
If it seems like I’ve been overly harsh due to disappointment, I wouldn’t argue with that. But if you enjoyed Sic Transit Gloria Mundi and were expecting further explorations of the same style, don’t even bother.
Check ’em out here: http://saligia.bandcamp.com/