Monday, November 26, 2012

Aleph Null - Dale (EP) (2012)

In true global metal style, you can travel far and wide, and find bands doing the same thing. From the farthest reaches of North America, to Asia and Australia, there will always be common ground. So it goes for the subgenre of stoner doom, a fast growing evolution of the classic sound pioneered by Black Sabbath. No matter where you call home, you are sure to find a handful, or boat load, of bands bringing this sound back to the fore. In Germany, a three piece band is doing exactly that, starting with an EP titled "Dale." Dusseldorf based Aleph Null may note be the first European band to carry the psychedelic sludge torch, but with the showcase of talent on this collection, they have potential to be the best. It isn't about how fast or how heavy the songs are, but how deep they drill into your head.

Sometimes you have to live with the hum, and sometimes you can enjoy it. The squealing feedback that opens the title track, "Dale," is a fitting place for things to start, evolving into a psychedelic groove. Harmony best describes the way the guitars and bass lock together in verse and chorus, forming a thumping level of low end that is completed by an airy, yet gritty, vocal line. Oddly enough, it is the murkiness of the mix that elevates the track, making the imperfect sound whole. Rarely does a spoken word clip fit more squarely into a metal track as the one that begins "Kill The Colossus." Much like the track itself, the clip is memorable if not a bit off the wall. But it is around the two minute mark that the band hits their stride, laying down a crushing mix of drums and bass, while also adding a healthy dose of infectious guitar riffs. They balance the inherent melody of the song with the chaotic touches, a difficult task that can be rewarding or devastating. In this case it is the former.

By the time the first real notes of "Protogrammar" flood your ear drums, you already have a good idea of where things are going. It is in the down tempo portions where the band succeeds the most; not just in the chugging distortion, but in the overall delivery of each instrument. It allows for every kick drums, every individual pluck of a bass string to be heard loud and clear. Even the vocals are more at home in the slower pace, doing a style of raspy crooning that brings to mind not only classic metal, but also the height of the grunge era. The airy singing and the low end groove form quite the formidable duo, resulting in one of the strongest tracks on the album. But it isn't until "Noah" that the band gives you a glimpse into some of the more avant visions they have for their music. They find a more artistic home in the midst of a battery of drums, incorporating more elements of post metal into the melodic guitar work. By no means is this saying that their foot has come off the pedal, or that they have traded in distortion for effects. But there is a deeper sound here that wasn't present before. And in those added layers, you find a wealth of tempo and tone changes, some more satisfying than others.

As the only track that fails to reach the five minute mark, don't dismiss "Sidewinder" until you have taken the time to listen to it two, three, or twelve times. Everything you could ever want from classic psychedelic doom is packed into this one offering, beginning with a guitar riff that is simple but wholly memorable. The vocals are at their best here, both in the more subtle verses and the bridge sections. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what sets this one apart from the others, but there is something significant that will make this a favorite for many a listener. Conversely, the staggeringly long closer, "Corridor," is a series of victories, strung together to form a whole. There are portions that are tremendous, groove heavy stoner metal. But at the same time, there are so many instances where a quicker turnover may have helped drive home each section. When a song begins and ends with thirty seconds or more of feedback, it is easy to identify areas that could be trimmed for time. This is not to say any of the aforementioned pieces are tedious or boring, but this is the only song that doesn't fly by in a blink. Preference is the only deciding factor.

When you put the screws to it, it is nearly impossible to find anything not to like from Aleph Null. What they give you is something straightforward, enjoyable, and something easy to listen to over and over again. Instead of tying themselves in knots, trying to put new and exciting twists on the old formula, they deliver an all systems go version of stoner doom that doesn't need bells and whistles to be good. A simple combination of bass, guitar, drums and vocals is all you need to build a wall of sound that could dwarf some of the bands that used to define the genre. And if the six songs on "Dale" are any indication of the future, we haven't heard the last of these three gentlemen. The future looks bright... and murky.


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