Housed in a handsome digi-pack (of which there are a thousand copies, as well as five hundred double LPs, containing impressively widescreen photography, ‘End of chapter’, the new album from post-black metal band Au-Dessus is an impressive offering. Released this week on cult label Les Acteurs de L’ombre productions, it is a consistently surprising offering that roams similar sonic territory to latter-day Isis and Red Sparrowes whilst adding plenty of blackened grind to the mix.
The album gets off to an immediately impressive start with the droning ‘VI’, a track which combines Sarunas’ inventive rhythms with harmonised, wordless vocals and the elastic riffing of guitarists Simonas and Jokubas. It takes a full two minutes for the track to finally break free of its self-imposed chains, at which point Mantas exercises his impressive roar and the band plunge into a seething maelstrom of swirling, black metal riffs. Dark and haunting, this richly textured introductory track draws the listener into the heart of the band’s epic material and it proves a curiously magnetic piece of music. Employing dissonant riffs reminiscent of Mastadon’s earlier, heavier work, ‘VII’ is a vicious, unyielding piece of music that allows a bloody rage to chart a course across the sparking guitars. A full-blooded black metal assault, ‘VII’ is a grim and uncomfortable track. Segueing directly into the ferocious ‘VIII’, Au-Dessus keep the audience pinned against the ropes, the churning guitars landing gut punch after gut punch as Mantas’ vocals seemingly hover in the air just in front of your fevered brow. Yet, for all the savagery, the band’s secret weapon is the subtle hints of melody that emerge from the ravaged landscape, drawing you ever deeper into the band’s snow-capped landscape. More surprising is the bruising yet wide-ranging ‘IX’, a track with progressive ambitions and a suitably epic run time. Veering from minimalist black metal to huge, ambient riffs that gaze towards the dark abyss of space, ‘IX’ is the album’s masterpiece and demonstrates the band’s otherworldly ambition.
Maintaining the sense of awe that emerged on ‘IX’, ‘X’ operates in similarly lofty territory, although the band never lose their icy grip on the listener and the riffs remain as forceful as ever. Nonetheless, it is another swirling epic that captures the imagination and holds it right through the song’s extended run time. Dark riffs that initially sound like a contorted version of Soundgarden appear on the twisted ‘XI’, all bending riffs and atypical tonal shifts. As the track progresses, dark shapes emerge and haunting refrains slither in and out of sight as sheets of snow obscure the view. It makes for the third astounding track in a row and the dense, hypnotic patterns serve to keep the listener utterly engrossed. The album ends with the more traditionally blackened riff of ‘XII : End of chapter’, the band heading into Emperor territory with mid-paced riffs and harrowing screams rousing the listener form their reverie and thrusting them back into the cold light of the day. It is a suitably grandiose finale and a fitting end to an album that fuels the imagination so effectively.
Having absorbed the deep, resonant and complex soundscapes of Au-Dessus over a few days, it’s easy to see why the band were snapped up by revered cult label Les Acteurs de L’ombre Productions – both band and label have the same progressive views about the art of creation and it’s clear throughout this epic release that Au-Dessus desire to be leaders and most certainly not followers. With its astonishing art, crisp, clear production and ambitious song-writing, ‘End of chapter’ is a dark gem that will continue to haunt the senses with each and every listen. 9