Belgian act Maudlin present the listener with an intriguing proposition on new album Sassuma Arnaa. There’s so much going on on the album that you’ll find it impossible not only to take it all in on first listen, but also to pinpoint what the band are about and where they are coming from.
That’s not to say that the record is disjointed or in any way fractured. It’s just all a bit overwhelming, however cohesive the whole thing turns out to be after prolonged exposure.
Opening track Endless Expanse appears to be just that; it’s a veritable trans-Siberian rail journey of a track, taking in hints of psychedelia, slabs of doom and acres of prog rock whimsicality that leave the listener grasping feebly at air trying to make sense of it all.
The title track is heavier, ostensibly more straightforward and therefore easier to pin down. Sheets of doomish, metallic guitar underpin a mournful groan from vocalist Davy De Schrooder at the song’s outset and, unusually for an album with more twists and turns than the local hairpin bend negotiation championships, stay for the duration of the track. It’s old school heavy metal in the purest, time-honoured sense, and it’s rather good.
Above the Vast Clouds has, like all songs with the word cloud in the title, a dreamy, otherworldly feel. Ken Verleye’s supple bass work drives the song forward and gives it it’s spine as guitars strum sparsely and keys wash in and out of the listener’s consciousness. De Schroover lays off the doom here, fitting the somnolent feel provided by the rest of the band before a mid-section redolent of The Damned in their Phantasmagoria guise burbles like warm, soothing liquid into the ears. Once again the band introduce a wide variety of influences and feels into play, and for this reviewer the neat juxtaposition of dreamy pop and strident gothic rock is the highlight of the album.
The Fog Returns sees Maudlin at their most angular and inaccessible, adamantine riffs creaking tectonically against De Schrooder’s angered, wounded roar; guitarists Jasper Bullynck & Kris Vannecke keep things taught and interesting in the solo department whilst never letting up on the sheer power of the riffage. Bête Noire lurches between faint melodic finesse and pure pummelling thuggery in pleasing style, Verleye again putting the four string motherfucker front and centre in the mix. At times it sounds like the individual members are playing different songs yet the whole hangs together superbly, teetering on the abyss of chaos yet finding resolution in a snub-nosed exhibition of taut rifferama at the songs end.
Penultimate track Erase is the album’s epic, weighing in at ten and a half minutes in length; however everything the band do has a feeling of immensity, so relatively Erase simply serves up more immensity than the other songs on the album. Building slowly from clean, picked notes on the guitar through a mid section that recalls the quieter moments of Type O Negative to a final denouement of pure doom and an unsettling screech on the keyboards that is sure to set your teeth on edge, Erase is the world of Maudlin in microcosm.
Closing track The Stowaway moves back to more straightforward waters, with harmony vocals providing a bit of light relief after the assault course the band have put our ears through over the previous forty-odd minutes. Although they do get a bit unsettling again at the end of the song, obviously…
In the final analysis Maudlin aren’t going to be for everyone – indeed it’s hard to see where their hardcore constituency of fans might lie – but there really is a lot here to get your teeth into if you don’t mind veering into left field a little bit every now and then.
Sassuma Arnaa will be released by Consouling Sounds on February 23rd.