Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Aleph Null - Belladonna (EP) (2013)

A wise man once said that if you found a job that you loved, you would never have to work a day in your life. While most of us struggle to find a job that will pay us to do whatever it is we love, it would seem the powers that be have smiled upon German three piece Aleph Null. Not bound by contractual obligations to sell thousands of records or write the next big hit single that could bump the current pop sensation from the charts, this Dusseldorf based band already made a splash with their debut EP, "Dale." But it is on this, their second offering, that the band find a comfortable seat and claim it. Taking the Black Sabbath style of psychedelic doom, and adding in some of the more modern adventures of Mastodon and a distinct thumping groove, "Belladonna" finds a band that is 365 days older, and light years ahead of their contemporaries.

Squealing feedback may be the most fitting way for "Belladonna Wreath" to open, but it is the groove that emerges from those shrieks that defines the track itself. Guitars, bass and drums come together in a crushing unison, with every down beat pounding through the cones on your speakers with a loud pop. Taking their effort from the last EP and improving the delivery, you now have a cohesive vocal line to hang your hat on, providing added melody to the mix. Coercing a head nod or swing of the hair might be an easy task, thanks in part to a stomping breakdown section that sees the band at their heavy handed best. While it may be an exaggeration to say that "Mars Father" is a genre defining moment in its early stages, it certainly wouldn't be impossible. But with a tempo increase in sight, you have something else entirely to hang your hat on. The low end sees an increased strength hear, rattling the very room from which this review is written. With a step back into that trippy psychedelia, an airy, smoky passage coaxes you from the edge of the cliff, only to be driven back with a dose of dense chugging. As if harnessing all of the powers of Mastodon at their murky best, the latter half of the track sees that sludgy, oily film coating everything. the pacing alone in the outro is enough to make your head explode.

A surprisingly quiet "Gagarin" fades in, with clean, lightly plucked guitars and strings meeting up with a slightly metallic bass line. With space age effects building and fading in the background, there is an interesting dynamic at play here, as you sit and wait for the hammer to come down. Sure, there are a few cymbal crashes and the sizzling of metal creeping in. But all in all, this is a moody interlude that may sooth the savage beast just in time. Much as they did on the "Dale" EP, the band saves the biggest and longest track for last. The seven minute "Solar Sail" will certainly be mentioned by fans, old and new, in the same sentence as the words "best" and "track." Rekindling that love for classic metal, there is a familiar ring to the vocals in the first verse. While this is certainly not the reincarnation of Dio, or even a rebirth of Ozzy Osbourne, it may in fact be a more accessible alternative. The combination of the melodic vocals, the massive focus on the low end, and the thick layer of distortion that binds it all together is frighteningly good. Once again, though, the larger than life groove that inhabits the four to five minute marks would be enough to elicit a "shut up and take my money" moment. Leading directly into an effects laced solo section, backed by a smooth bass line and booming drums, this is the band at their level best, igniting a fire under your ass, they encouraging you to just sit there and take it.

Try as you might, there just isn't anything to dislike from Aleph Null. Sound familiar? It almost becomes too easy to like this band and everything they do. It doesn't take a music school education to understand what they're doing, and how good they are at doing it. More than that, though, there aren't any gimmicky filler tracks, or even moments, that you can point at and cry foul. It would seem that these three musicians from Dusseldorf have found themselves a comfortable place in the scope of metal music, one that allows them to stay true to their craft, and stay true to themselves at the same time. And when you can do that, and still thrill and impress people from all over the world, you have something special going on. Four tracks, 22 minutes, one enjoyable experience.


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