It's hard to believe, but black metal is around 20 years old. During its second decade, the music has been gradually subsumed into the metal mainstream, cannibalized, recombined, and reinvented. Pulled in one direction by the commercialization of bands like Dimmu Borgir, and in the other direction by the hermetic inaccessibility of solo studio acts like San Francisco's Leviathan, fans and metal taxonomers have circled the wagons around arbitrary criteria, judging bands on whether or not they use a keyboard, or whether or not they're from Scandinavia.
Thankfully, in the Bay Area, we've got a black metal band who couldn't care less what the guarantors of kvlt (sic) purity have to say. San Francisco's Ludicra hit stores with their fourth full-length today, and Tenant (Profound Lore Records) showcases an act at the height of their considerable powers, churning out organic-sounding, progressive black metal mixed with affecting, punk-rock humility. In place of frozen Norwegian rivers or blood-soaked Vikings, the album derives its themes from the eerie, uncanny, and horrifying aspects of urban living, as its title eloquently suggests.
Guitarists John Cobbett (also of Hammers of Misfortune) and Christy Cather favor warmer guitar tones of the type that won Wolves in the Throne Room so much critical aplomb, and they're buttressed in this choice by the throat-shredding vocals of Laurie Sue Shanaman, which give the music a visceral, catharctic potency. Drummer Aesop Dekker is nimble if understated, and brings a welcome humanity to a genre that is generally so chops- and blast-beat-heavy.
The scything 6/8 riff that begins album opener “Stagnant Pond” is a harbinger of things to come, ascending into meditative chaos before giving way to the stately, mid-tempo blast that opens “A Larger Silence.” “In Stable” is the LP's barn-burner, with its pulsing, black 'n' roll verse and massive ending build.
All of the album's seven tracks are longer than five minutes, and two top nine, so it's a testament to the Ludicra's arranging talent that the songs breeze by as fast as they often do. Whether it's a stop-on-a-dime meter shift or a clever bit of pagan-folk filigree, its hard not to be impressed by the band's songwriting acumen. “Clean White Void” displays a notable NWOBHM influence, a stark contrast to the relentless blast beats on “Truth Won't Set You Free” and the meditative chanting in the album-closing title track “Tenant.” Taken as a whole, the album is a gripping evocation of anger, fear, and sadness – what's more black metal than that?
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