Monday, January 27, 2014

Idensity - Chronicles (2013)

With the turn of the new year, and a return to writing regularly and confidently, I must admit that ime got away from us for a while. Albums flooded our inbox, and most of them sat, unheard, for far too long. Idensity, a French six piece, became a casualty of a schedule packed far too full, and time running far too short. Their album, in hindsight, would have made for a shining addition to a top ten list, or even a past podcast. But alas, as wise men once said, you either do or don't, but you can't catch up. So, months after intended, it was time to immerse ourselves in what was a violin driven death metal album, or so we thought. Instead, this sextet is doing something else, and might even be doing themselves a disservice with their own description and reasoning. For on the eleven tracks that they have titled "Chronicles," you have something as beautifully balanced and mind numbingly heavy as a piece by Wagner. All with the flare and delivery of the genres best. Whether it is just one listen or fifty, you might not be able to get enough of this pairing.

It is the title track that opens the album, and it is the title track that cements what this album is all about. The strong orchestral backing isn't a one off, or a feature; instead, it is the splash of color an album of this type craves. While vocalist Christophe Ferreira growls and screams has way through the verse, a bevy of horns and strings rings out behind him. They are not alone, of course, as a full range of guitars, drums, and bass form the most prominent piece of the puzzle. But it is the final stages of this track that ring most true, when all of those elements solidify into one. They have found the fabled place that resides between death and folk metal, and "Over The Abyss" illustrates it with vibrancy and depth. A wall of chugging guitars looms large, but with a much neater presentation than many other bands of the same ilk. Heavy passages, dominated by distortion, are quickly offset by violins or fast fret work. All of the intricacies of the track add to its appeal, broadening the audience by the note. Clean vocals may not be the greatest strength of the band, but Ferreira makes them worth using. Though, compared to the hauntingly delivered female vocal that comes and goes, particularly in "Sekhmet," his voice can't compare. The track explodes at every turn, winding violin work tying knots around what is already devastatingly heavy riffs. This would be the clincher, if there was any doubt about your feelings thus far.

If clarity is needed, songs like "Mofa" reinforce that this isn't a death metal album with a violin attached; Mayline GautiƩ is a star all her own, adding so much depth of sound to each and every movement. She stands on the same sonic plane as guitarists Antoine Leboisselier and Lionel Nardari, a difficult and risky gamble, but one that pays off early and often. Even with no vocal component, it seems to tell a story through its flow. It is important to note that despite the strong death and string presence, this album isn't one dimensional, or even two. It evolves and progresses as time passes, with songs like "The Seven Seals" wandering off the main line in favor of more indulgent riffing. Yet, somehow, when the clock rolls over and "Antikhristos" comes into frame, it doesn't seem strange of stilted. Balance may not seem all that important when it comes to anything death inspired, but once you've found it, it is impossible to let it go. And once again, Idensity are in rarified air here, walking the tightrope between heavenly strings and beautifully crushing guitar strokes. And while he may be resting comfortably behind so many of the layers, drummer Jean Philippe Ouameris never short a blasting snare or set of double kicks to hammer each segment home. He is the constant between the two sides of the band, tying beauty to grim reality. His cymbal crashes alone make "Typhoon" the melodically charged, distortion fueled masterpiece it is.

As varied as the album can be, even following their trajectory here wouldn't lead you to what "Maddhi's Arrival" does to you. Sublime orchestration and instrumentation, drums that fire through your speakers like crisp, individual gun shots, and an ethnically tinged theme make this stand out in the best possible way, without interrupting the flow that the other tracks have worked so hard to strengthen. Thanks to the dedication to songwriting, the album does not limp into the final trio of songs, but comes sprinting toward the finish. "Annunaki" may not boast the strongest vocal lines, as Ferreira relies heavily on his clean vocals to carry the weight here, when his rich growls might have been better suited to take the majority of time. That choice aside, it is more of the same here, heavy riffs, strings aplenty, and a focus on how they all come together. Trading in the brutal in favor of the majestic and atmospheric, "Mantra" is the only track that seems almost out of place. Not in structure or sound, however, but in concept. It gives away some of that balance, leaning on clan vocals and background melodies to fill out the five minute plus runtime, but it doesn't seem to have the pop it needs. Luckily, "Loki" has more than enough to go around. Diabolically coarse, and yet somehow artistically refined, it hits the notes you would expect the closer to hit, while still furthering the high arching scope of the album.

The scoring debate often boils down to a handful of criteria, but there are two questions that can trump the others; is the album great on the first listen? Will the album still be great on the 100th listen? The answer to both of those questions will very quickly help to formulate a rating. And when the answer to both is a resounding yes, as it is with "Chronicles," there is very little left to decide. Idensity didn't stumble onto this formula by luck or chance; this was a calculated and meticulously organized effort from start to finish. After all, coordinating a full range of orchestrations in with a traditionally guitar dominated mix isn't something you do at the last minute, or the last day in studio. It has to be planned and cultivated to make sense. All of those pieces fit together in such a way, it almost seems like they were meant to be. Trust me, that is not a call for all death based bands to explore the word of strings and horns. Those results would be mostly frightening, and sometimes nauseating. But for Idensity, this is now their home. This is a place they can return as often as they see fit. And we will be waiting there to hear more.


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