Friday, September 27, 2013

Černá - Restoring Life (2013)

One of the most difficult (see: impossible) questions to answer is the one of who is "best." The best thrash band, the best folk band, the best melodic death band. Subjective as it is, there is virtually no way to narrow down the fields of millions and say, definitively that one band stands above them all. We can hypothesize, speculate, or state opinion, but there is no universal answer. But when it comes to the newly exploding post-black metal genre, the field is far more constrictive than the others, and the cream always seems to rise to the top. Maybe it's because mainstream  music fans haven't caught on, or that there is little money in that pool. Either way, it is easy to separate the weak from the strong. As Cody McCoy proves, bigger isn't always better; his one man project, Černá, is one of the most compelling names in this particular subsect, keeping the tenets of black metal alive, while infusing melodic and post elements to counterbalance them. On the new album, "Restoring Life," McCoy delivers a performance unlike any in the field today. One man has set the bar high for millions.

Rather than come out of the gate with a massive blast, McCoy uses his first track to cradle you with melodies great and small. "Woken In Prague" isn't an intro track or an interlude; it stands alone in arc and scope, with his guitar and bass work filling the top, middle and bottom of the audio spectrum. Soothing and somber, it shows his melodic sensibility, while still creating the framework for "Společně part I : Shy Sun" in the process. The latter evokes an emotional response unlike most of the hordes of post-black metal bands. Through the use of only instrumentals, he captivates you. Whether it be the guitars that form the vocal component, or the way each kick drums bursts out of the mix as if you are right in front of the kit, it solidifies the entire track. Much in the same way that "Společně part II : Laying Down In The Rain," is ambition brought to life through musical means. With his guitar leads carrying so much of the weight, the rhythmic pounding of drums and bass work isn't merely an afterthought; it is a melody all it's own. Together, they make a nearly six minute piece feel like three. Before you have time to find yourself completely immersed, the last fading notes are coming and going.

But those notes, those last few strums of the guitar that end the second part, also open "Společně part III : Night Sounds," tying the entire thing into one broad reaching work. But it isn't just another movement in the bigger picture, this is a unique and delicate composition. The distortion still rattles the covers on your speakers, but the richness of the bass line changes the tone of the song. When piano keys enter, it fits all too well. havign touched on the soft spoken side, McCoy now brings back the booming kick drums on the fourth and longest part of the series, "Společně part IV : Embrace the Stars." This is the atmospheric black metal construction that so many bands think they're assembling, while falling miles short of their intended goal. McCoy, on the other hand, delivers in all aspects. As a full band, the track would be impressive enough. As one single man, multi-instrumentalist and writer, it stands as dynamic a track as any single song in the metal lexicon. He teases you with anticipation as the volume builds on his solemn string work, making you wait for the moment the drums will blast back into action. They do, in fact, return; and they deliver a blow that will displace whatever hair you have on your head.

The final chapter, "Společně part V : Lullaby" dials back the aggression in favor of subtle sounds and melodic emphasis. A single clean guitar is the only element you need to carry you through. It's delicately, and precisely, plucked strings put you at ease, while single bass notes are struck to back it. But, like many a surprise, it is the unexpected explosion that comes that will resonate long after those notes fade. McCoy packs the mix full, relying on keen production work to make all of the pieces fit together, which they do without issue. With that journey now complete, you can feel yourself coming to the end of the road, albeit with two tracks remaining. The title track, "Restoring Life," is also the one that best reinforces the talents of McCoy, from both a writing and execution standpoint. He cruises through the downtempo portions with no difficulty, continually setting up the hazy atmospherics that come in wave after wave. he does what the "post" genre always indicates, going beyond the genre tag, and expanding the sound to new reaches. In the same way, "Isa" could be used to define the entire sub genre from which it comes, thanks to the surgical precision of each instrument along the way. As great as the guitar work is throughout, it may be the subtle touches from the bass - a single plucked string, a gentle slide up the neck - that sells it all.

While Černá is a one man band, Cody McCoy is not a one band man. While he may be the lone proprietor of one of the premiere post black metal projects in the world, he isn't sitting back, waiting to record. Currently on tour with Traitor, he keeps his musical mind busy, if not loaded. Maybe it speaks to his talent in the songwriting process, or maybe it speaks more to his ability to put thought onto tape. This work, from start to finish, has all of the polish of a major label debut, without all of the pretentiousness of being tagged the next big thing. McCoy has found that pure, unadulterated balance between emotion and art, fusing them both together, song after song, in a way that makes them easily identifiable, while still maintaining that take on the music that is as unique as a snowflake. But perhaps even more impressive is the construction of the album, recording through the use of live instruments, rather than programmed drums. The talent is there, the vision is there. And as a result, "Restoring Life" is breathing fresh air into the lungs of metal.


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