Austaras – Prisoner of Sunlight (2015)

Austaras - Dragged Into Sunlight
An old issue of Sadistic Metal Reviews once contained some interesting commentary on the subject of Agalloch – drop the “metal pretense” and possibly see album sales soar. The counterpoint is that there’s always an audience for rock music disguised as some sort of metal, but if Prisoner of Sunlight (Austaras’ first full length album after an allegedly post-black metal inspired debut EP in 2011) is to be believed, there’s also an audience for rock albums that don’t bother with the deception. As a mopey, vaguely depressive, pseudo-artsy post rock album that’s presumably been done a million times before, Prisoner of Sunlight is unsurprisingly less offensive than the halfway approach of a Deafheaven or a Myrkur or whatever the kids are forgetting about these days, but that’s not quite enough to make it worthwhile.

Above all else, Prisoner of Sunlight is a flat and directionless experience. The band builds their songs out of short chord progressions and brief guitar leads with little in the way of heavy metal styled riffing. They promptly do little to develop or elaborate on their musical ideas beyond the occasional break in for slow acoustic passages. Vocals are notably entirely clean sung, and stylistically they’re pretty much the standard Mikael Åkerfeldt for better or worse. I suppose you could say the technique needs some work to really shine, but they’re otherwise competent and perhaps stylistically appropriate. Any ambitions the vocalist has, though, are stamped on by the sheer flatness of the songwriting. Other elements fail to add any real interest to this – occasional synthesizer lines and generic rhythmic backing aren’t quite the selling point I would hope for. On the other hand, the album does nothing particularly wrong – no particularly jarring moments of randomness or especially obvious pandering to youth demographics, but the sense that Austuras focuses on texture and ‘ambiance’ above all else, while not necessarily a flaw (since some musicians can pull it off effectively), is a dealbreaker.

Ultimately, Prisoner of Sunlight is not a good album, but it isn’t even a bad enough album to laugh at. You might get the impression that more popular post-metal bands would sound like this if they too stripped all the metal from their approach. Perhaps they would; the lesson here is that you need a better understanding of how to vary your music if you’re going to write “atmospheric” metal. That’s more difficult than it would appear on first glance.

Hipsters attack black metal with pale imitations


Since the early 1970s, the music industry and the social scene behind it — comprised of those who use external appearance to signal social success — has been trying to find some way to counter the authenticity of metal. While rock and blues stars appeared to be rebels, the truth emerged over time that most were very conventional in their outlook except for hedonism.

Heavy metal on the other hand rejected the founding myths of our society since the intellectual shift so-called “The Enlightenment,” in which people decided that social pressure to enable the individual to be “equal” whether right or wrong, good or bad, was more important than social standards. Heavy metal pointed out that our perceived enemies are scapegoats, and the real problem is that the enemy is us, and that people are delusional and happy hippie flower power is another variety of the bourgeois deliberate ignorance of reality that promotes social decay.

In recent years, the same people who were hippies back in the 1960s — the conformity of appearance non-conformist and then going to work at a bank and retiring as a fat Baby Boomer — have returned as “social justice workers,” or SJWs. These people, together with an industry that realizes it can sell more re-branded indie rock than it can discover compelling metal bands, have created a new style that culturally appropriates the appearance of black metal while injecting it with the same messages of self-indulgence, self-pity, victimhood and pacifism that the hippies bleated about back in the day.

As the UK’s leading cheerleader paper reports, the herd is claiming this new false black metal is in fact an “innovation,” despite it resembling music from thirty years ago that black metal bands detested.

Enter “blackgaze”, the buzz term for a new school of bands taking black metal out of the shadows and melding its blast beats, dungeon wailing and razorwire guitars with the more reflective melodies of post-rock, shoegaze and post-hardcore. It’s a geographically loose scene and its bands have been embraced by the indie media, which means you’re now as likely to hear black metal at ATP as in the Carpathian mountains.

Alert readers may note the “post-rock, shoegaze and post-hardcore” attribution, which Death Metal Underground has long identified as being the origins of this material. In other words, it is not black metal, but indie rock playing “dress up” as black metal. The quest of the industry for a safe rebellion goes on.

Vod – Tuurngait


Vod is the one-man project of bassist Dave Trembley. Announced as an indescribable anomaly, a blend of interesting ideas in astounding ways, this is a actually a fairly clear mixture of influences that never coalesces into an original voice. Dancing and jumping between general ambient, post rock, and the break-down metal of Meshuggah (mostly in derivative and simplified Djentish manner, for groove more than for percussion wankery). The whole album is nonetheless covered by a recognizable blanket, although it is not a distinct expression but only a consistency in the use of the same collection of styles.
Rather than establish a mood and submerge the listener in it, or take us into a spiraling well of moments to build atmosphere, Vod simply gives us cool-vibe-inducing moments gathered from the aforementioned genres. Heavily relying on the most primal effects of both ambient and Djent, Tuurngait will often fall into a simple ambient drone or into the simplest and easiest to catch syncopated modern groove. Careful and smooth in taking the songs from a whisper to a full-on groove-party, this music is good conversation material as it is easy to digest.

Terra – Untitled (2015)


Advertised as a black metal release, Terra contains each and every one of the traits people might identify the genre with. The raspy vocals eclipsed by the distortion of the guitars, the dominating use of tremolo or simple strumming on the guitars and the steady and smoothly changing pace of the songs, and even a folk melody or two.


A few tell-tale signs tell us this is more in the vein of post-rock with progressive pretension. The inclination towards plain major-scale melodies can be considered superficial, but more often than not does separate black metal from the foreigners who are only borrowing its tools. The alien scent is most offensive in the blatant filler of Dj-groove sections which almost bring to mind Periphery’s Matt Halpern.


The importance of dissecting Terra lies in the relevance of knowing how to separate black metal’s “atmospheric” tendencies versus post-metal and the lesser (most) ambient music whose sole point is to “create atmosphere”. Black metal creates atmosphere and that atmosphere becomes a tool to what it is saying. Terra’s music is atmosphere.


Music is not about pointing out different elements.

Music, a work of music, is about integrating all the elements.

If you are able to say “this is a very rhythmical part/this is a very emotional part/this is a very technical part/this is a very atmospheric part”, you are not making music.  You are, maybe, only producing some (could be also very interesting and very beautiful) sounds.

— Daniel Barenboim

Atriarch – An Unending Pathway


Generic post-metal with bassier distorted power chords and doom metal pacing, Atriarch would like you to think that they are ” a living entity comprised of four parts, offering catharsis through sonic ritual. Our aim is to tear a hole in the veil that blinds us from our true selves. We are bombarded with ideals of a superficial shallow lifestyle, that we are enslaved to maintain.”

Even more, their press release states that Atriarch is “a mesmerizing death/doom metal force encompassing haunting atmospheres and droning avalanches of ritualistic sludge, a living entity comprised of four parts, offering catharsis through sonic ritual.” It then mentions their two “critically adored” previous records. Then the band adds: “Our aim is to tear a hole in the veil that blinds us from our true selves. We are bombarded with ideals of a superficial shallow lifestyle, that we are enslaved to maintain. This veil has become so powerful and overwhelming that we ignore our spirits to worship our shells, as money stokes the fires that burns our immortal souls. Greed corruption fear and hate is the true face of this Self Serving way of life that we have come to call ‘normal.’ While we believe in opening our minds and expanding our spirits we cannot forget our ability to fight. The spiritual battle for freedom of mind and body can be fought on all levels and violence is in our nature. There is no god there is no devil there is an All Encompassing force that connects all living things. Embrace the ritual and the veil will come crashing down…”

While we do not want to commmit the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, it seems that critical adoration increases the closer a band approximates the mainstream norm, which in this age is indie rock. If you take indie rock, slow it down and play it in power chords instead of open chords, then add a ton of screaming in an “emotional” way, you get something like Atriarch. While no individual part of this is offensive, the album adds up to a heap of boredom. You have heard these chord progressions before in a similar context. These rhythms you have also heard fit together in similar ways. It is just slower, bassier and with more screaming. Perhaps if they added a dying hyena it would get even more critical acclaim.