Friday, June 17, 2011

Ava Inferi - Onyx (2011)

Formed as the brainchild of former Mayhem composer Rune Eriksen and Portuguese singer Carmen Susana Simões, Ava Inferi has influences that stretch far and wide. But the one truth that stretches throughout their discography, albeit a small one, is the constant gray of life. Whether it be through the misery of everyday life, or the fascination with death and the hereafter, each track on their latest offering, and follow-up to the criticially acclaimed "Blood Of Bacchus," is ripe with pure, unadulterated gloom.

Dark riffs ring out, followed by operatic chanting and increasingly powerful drums. The title track, "Onyx," is chilling in it's female fronted verses, which are light on instrumentation. However, the choruses leave room for a flurry of solo guitar work. Quiet whispers create a mood that will leave goosebumps on your arms. It remains heavy, dark and brooding. Effects laden guitar leads you into "The Living End," before distortion kicks in. The clean vocals throughout are beautiful, yet emotionally draining. An eerie male voice enters in the refrain, gloomy and melancholy. Drumming is persistent, not tearing your attention away from the lyrical message, but not weighing down the composition.

Shortened, distorted scales take hold of "A Portal." The tempo never moves past a low roll, but momentum is not an issue. The song flows seamlessly from verse to chorus and back again. Brief keyboard induced orchestration only help to accentuate the gray clouds and their silver linings. No intricate guitar work, no crashing drum breakdowns. Only smooth, structured gothic style. "((Ghostlights))" could not have carried a more fitting title, sprinkled with recorded paranormal investigations. To say frontwoman Carmen Susana Simões' voice creates imagery of "the other side" is an understatement. Her tone will haunt your dreams, especially when paired with some more aggressive doom metal chugging. Slow, deliberate and otherworldly.

After a brief intro, "Majesty" sees some heavier guitar work, sliding up and down the neck. Drums enter, with a roll of toms. Vocals range from the somber, low range to the sublime, higher octaves, delivered with power and conviction. Bass work is a constant, never overpowering the leads. Spoken words and crashing waves provide the perfect opening for "The Heathen Island." In the nine minute track, you get a taste of everything the band has to offer. The bass gets a starring role, flowing through spoken passages. Guitars enter and exit, distorted riffs trading with harmonic picking. The drums throw a few unexpected fills at you, knocking you off balance. All the while, smooth, soothing female vocals put you at ease.

"By Candlelight And Mirrors" sees the band enter the realm of traditional doom at times, with a crawling pace and the typical kick/snare drum patterns. Guitars finally screech forward, on top of blazing double kicks. But the vocal patterns remain unchanged, soaring over the top of the chaos. A dark angel, delivering line after line of pitch perfect opera. Soft guitars and orchestration takes over in "Venice In Fog," building toward an unearthly finish. You may find that the delicate vocals provided by Ms. Simões will stay with you, long after the music has stopped.

It is an accomplishment to be so dark, so dreary, and yet so melodic. Ava Inferi does not sacrifice structure and flow, simply to throw in a head banging breakdown or air guitar inducing solo. The music created comes off as very organic and effortless, in the best possible way. It seems as though, three albums in to what promises to be a long and successful career, the band have recorded what will be known as their seminal offering. Much like its namesake, "Onyx" stands as a truly magnificent gem.


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