June 18, 2016

Terra Tenebrosa - The Reverses

By Justin C. I get the impression that for a lot of people, Terra Tenebrosa gets stuck in the "too avant garde/too weird/only if I'm high" category. There are probably a few reasons for that.
By Justin C.

I get the impression that for a lot of people, Terra Tenebrosa gets stuck in the "too avant garde/too weird/only if I'm high" category. There are probably a few reasons for that. The vocalist--credited only as The Cuckoo--pushes the metal-vocalist-as-an-instrument idea to its fullest. He screams, hisses, whispers, rumbles, croaks, and everything else you could think of. Then there's the issue of genre. It's heavy, but what kind of metal is this? I've seen variations on "avant garde black metal," which...doesn't really cover it. On their latest, The Reverses, there's definitely an industrial influence. Do I add that in to a multi-hyphenated description? Or is this just post-everything? Well, I'm not going to let you off that easy. I'm not going to hammer it into a subgenre, because it deserves better than that.

Having gone back through all three of their full-length albums in preparation for this review, I realized something: Terra Tenebrosa isn't that weird oddball band that's too much even for the true kvlt. In fact, they're damn good song writers. Go back to The Tunnels, their first full-length, and listen to "Through the Eyes of the Maninkari." Yes, when the vocals kick in, it sounds like a demon recorded at half speed, but at its heart, this song is based on a damn fine, stomping guitar riff with an eerie line overlaid on top. (And just wait--the vocals later in the track sound like The Cuckoo is singing from the bottom of a blender.) Sure, the band often takes detours, but when you really listen, as I've done lately, you realize that these are solid metal tunes, even catchy ones, that are being reflected back to us from a funhouse mirror.

Terra Tenebrosa 2014. Photos by Webzine Chuul.

You can find plenty of examples throughout their discography. On The Purging, "The Compression Chamber" is shifting, dissonant, and just slightly off-kilter, but the drums are rock solid. The vocals come somewhere between a whisper and croak, but broken down to its fundamentals, this is a song that could be the soundtrack to the best horror movie you've never seen. Strip some of the stranger bits away, and this is a song that wouldn't have sounded completely out of place from one of your more adventurous-but-mainstream artists, maybe even 90s-era Bowie.

"Black Pearl in a Crystalline Shell" gave a glimpse of what's to come. The kind of driving, industrial rhythm in this track is something that's grown to be a major feature of The Reverses. The Cuckoo has some new friends this time around--with guest contributions from Blut aus Nord, Aosoth, and others. And yet somehow, even with these boundary-pushing conspirators, The Reverses might actually be Terra Tenebrosa's most accessible album yet. Hell, some of this is actually dance-able. "Dance metal?" you cry. "Blasphemy!" But listen to the thundering rhythms of "The End Is Mine to Ride" and tell me you're not itching to shake your black-clad ass at least a little.

Terra Tenebrosa 2014. Photos by Webzine Chuul.

Have they gone soft? Are they selling out? Unlikely. "Where Shadows Have Teeth" is another horror-fest, carried along on an alternate-note guitar riff that sounds like an ambulance siren that never arrives. The vocals are spine-chilling, but that's pretty much what you'd expect from bitey shadows. "Exuvia" starts with a guitar played to sound like a child's toy piano that's been half-melted in a furnace, and they let that ride with gurgling vocals for well over two minutes before the crashing percussion enters to add more form. Even the closing track, "Fire Dances," plays with your expectations, stretching to a mesmerizing 17-minutes. It makes you want to move, but it's a dance around a fire pit, not a club with glow sticks and MDMA.

Is it still weird for me to call this album accessible? I don't think so. Weird and creepy, but downright addicting, and in the end, expertly crafted music with just enough liberties taken to keep things fresh. The band is known, but after checking some of my favorite sites, I realized that they really haven't gotten the kind of coverage they deserve, especially since they're nowhere near as impenetrable as some of the highlights of the metal scene these days. Start with The Reverses, and then do as the album title suggests--go back and grab up the rest of their discography.

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