Like Negura Bunget, Alda have rooted their earthy black metal within the realm of pagan folklore, using their expressive song-writing to evoke images of the wide spaces and mountainous expanses of North America. The music is wide-ranging and takes in a mix of black metal at its most extreme and hauntingly melodic passages that seem to cry out in sorrow at the slow ravaging of the land by the forces of modernity. A five track record, ‘passage’ contains lengthy, contemplative songs that take the listener upon a journey alongside the band, far from the pressures of modern life to a time when there was only the communion between the person and the land and where the primary goal was to survive the fury of nature in all its glory.
The album opens with the ethereal beauty of ‘the clearcut’, a ten minute musical exploration that opens magnificently, the band incorporating slow, doomy riffs in the vein of 40 Watt sun with a searing beauty that only gives way to a torrent of furious black metal after some minutes of gently easing the listener into Alda’s world. As the song progresses and the white hot riffs flood from the speakers, so the band conjure images of a mighty storm tearing across a barren landscape, a tactic similarly employed by UK black metallers Winterfylleth who craft similarly evocative music, although Alda take their own path, and clean vocals abound, providing their epics with a more reflective edge than might be expected. The title track appears next, and it’s a subtle, lengthy work rife with timeless melody and gritty distortion. Initially closer to post-rock than black metal, it takes five minutes before a vocal is even introduced, and yet those five minutes are breathtakingly eloquent thanks to the intelligent arrangement, and when the icy fingers of black metal finally touch upon the listener you’ll be too in thrall to the music to fully realise what’s happening until it’s too late. Slipping away from brain-melting distortion, ‘Weathering’ opens in singer/songwriter mode, a simple acoustic refrain backing a naked, vulnerable vocal, slowly adding female backing vocals and, eventually, a stab of feedback that blazes like a flare in the dark, signalling the arrival of the album’s most potent black metal majesty. Despite the seeming incongruity of styles, the transition feels natural and the raging guitars still keep a tentative hold on the key melody even as the vocals scream and howl in the darkness. It’s not a straightforward race to the conclusion, however, and the song takes many twists and turns to reach its eventual conclusion.
The album’s shortest piece, ‘the crooked trail’ is a mere four minutes in length. A delicate piece, it showcases some fine finger picking on the acoustic and builds a potent, beautifully emotional atmosphere with its wordless vocals and echoing reverb. It perfectly paves the way for the album’s suitably epic conclusion, ‘animis’, taking the listener to the open peaks to gaze upon the countryside below before the inevitable storm front rolls in and brutally destroys the view. From the off ‘Animis’ is mired in seething turmoil, the guitars tearing and rasping, yet moving away from primal fury to a place of controlled chaos that is hypnotic rather than purely confrontational, the album ending with the storm clouds still looming over head and the feeling that the world is changing around us.
Black metal, at its best, is simply a badge that marks out creative freedom away from commercial concerns. Alda understand this, and their music lives and breathes as the band range from stunning acoustic minimalism to a full-on metallic assault upon the senses. Listening to the album you get the same feeling you might get when out alone, exploring some uninhabited region, a sense of wonder and isolation, as if the modern world, for a few hours at any rate, has ceased to exist. It is deeply evocative and perfectly executed. The extreme elements will, of course, place Alda into a relatively small niche, but if you admire bands who paint a mental picture and who create music as art rather than a tool of commerce, then ‘passage’ is an essential addition to your collection.