For all that labels can be invented to turn pretty much anything into a genre of metal these days, there still has to be some ferrous content to satisfy the ears of most right-thinking people before a band can be warmly welcomed into the broad and catholic Church that is ‘our kind of music’.
Hence bands like German duo Trautonist, alongside similarly calibrated artists such as Ghost Bath, Myrkur, Deafheaven and their ilk are always going to be lambasted for not being metal enough by the furrow-browed elites. Are Trautonist black metal? Not if you consider black metal to be the preserve of men with faces painted to look like angry badgers who sing as if suffering from congenital throat defects, no. But should they be included amongst the artists featured by a magazines that purports to provide it’s readership with ‘heavy metal for grownups’? Of course they should.
For all this hand-wringing, all that really matters is whether the music is any good, and there are large tracts of Ember that are very good indeed. Although opening track Fire and Ember begins by sounding like an unfortunate experiment involving nineties hipsters Stereolab and the bottom of a well gone horribly wrong, there’s a beguiling nature to Katharina and her fragile vocals that cuts through the clatter and really soothes the soul. It’s a Miltonian world of terrible sonic beauty, for sure, but somehow it works.
Third track The Garden takes these themes and stretches them to the point of breaking. The My Bloody Valentine-styled wall of sound thunders and smashes against the ears, never forming into recognisable riffs but always there in tangible form; the vocals again recall the days of nineties girl pop bands like Saint Etienne and Lush until Dennis (who also plays all the instruments on the album) weighs in with the inevitable tortured screams and death grunts, thus giving something for the metal aficionado to cling to.
When the sonic fog lifts briefly towards the end of the song Katharina’s beautiful voice rings out before being enveloped again in a deluge of post-punk styled tribal drumming and urgent basswork. It’s a beautiful noise.
Smoke and Ember revisits the work of Slowdive, albeit with a highly amplified kick (the mixing and mastering of Ember, by Markus Siegenhort, gives every track a monstrous sound), whilst the upbeat Hills of Gold, possibly the most ‘accessible’ track on the record, will give fans of The Cocteau Twins either the raging ache or gossebumps all over – I couldn’t possibly say which.
This isn’t metal, far from it. But I could listen to it all day, and if you love extreme music in all it’s many and varied guises then there’s plenty here for you too. Dip in.
Trautonist will release Ember through Wolves and Vibrancy Records on May 4th.