Epitimia - _(Un)Reality_
(Hypnotic Dirge Records, 2014)
by: Chaim Drishner (7 out of 10)
Russian trio Epitimia look like three hipsters so much you wouldn't believe, dressed mostly in white and shit; a manifesto of sorts that they don't give a fuck? A fashion statement? Trying to fit into the hipster world of intellectual black metal made by white-clothed people?

_(Un)reality_ is a very ambitious effort; you can give them -that-, at least. Both the hardworking Hypnotic Dirge Records and the band themselves apparently didn't withhold any effort or resource in order to produce this elegant, luxurious double album; it is gorgeous and ridiculously long, as well as worth the price paid by those who are going to like the music contained herein.

That's the problem, however: the music. If you happen to like the foreign, 'progressive' elements within a metal album, more than you like the actual -metal- ingredient, then there's probably a problem with the -metal- side of an album.

That's what's going on here, more or less, on this massive recording (massive, in this context, relates merely to the scope of the album and not to its quality). It's not like we don't appreciate other musical outputs -- on the contrary, we certainly do -- but if you apply a slight experimentation only to adorn a metal album, making it a mere ornament, as is the case with this album, wouldn't you want your metallic dimension to be at least as interesting as the non-metallic stuff, if not more-so? Otherwise, what's the point?!

Epitimia use a saxophone on this album, a lot, which is great; they exploit captivating male and female vocals, occasionally semi-operatic but mostly raspy ones; they use some curious, unorthodox structures that make everything flow in unison. On the surface, there's nothing here to complain about. On the surface.

Scratch this thin coating and you'll realize that instead of being just the above said sonic ornamentation, an aural make-up that only superficially hides a darker, more potent metallic beast, these very elements become the focal point of the album, without which the whole structure crumbles, succumbing to boredom and lack of dynamics, because Epitimia's metallic tracks (or whole sections within tracks) are simply not interesting enough to be standing alone on their own merits.

Epitimia play what some will probably dub as 'post black metal'; you may agree because the music is very dreamy and volatile (if not pop music-inclined), and in that sense far from being aggressive, accentuating post-rock and shoegaze innuendos and many contemplative, hypnotic parts. Thus, Epitimia sound like the next post black metal band: decent and melancholic, having a dominating vocalist up in the front of the mix and an incessant string of chords generating a wall of sound rather than note to note playing.

This is the band's weakest point; those riff-less parts drag on and on with the only discernible variation being the tremolo picking note progression that mildly roams across the guitar strings. This method of playing may be of benefit when one is trying to generate some layered, thick atmosphere, but being a mere ambient-inducing tool, without an interesting hard and heavy rock-oriented song writing ability that grabs the listener by the throat to back it up, doesn't cut it here and almost fails at enabling the music to lift off the ground and become a vehicle for transcendence, being apparently the ultimate goal of the album.

Like in many cases -- and here especially -- the vocalist sets the pace, so to speak, for the whole album, without whom the music itself would have easily been regarded as (experimental) shoegaze rock; especially given the fact the (programmed) drums sound so flimsy and weak, and the bass guitar is to all intents and purposes inaudible. Not that there's anything wrong with shoegaze rock, provided you actually -want- to write and play shoegaze rock. An educated guess would be this wasn't the preliminary choice of Eptimia, nor its conscious, by default modus operandi.

That being said, luckily the moments of brilliance are aplenty on this album; not only do Epitimia make the Russian language sound good with this kind of mellow metal, but the more experimental facet of the recording has been manifested with great attention, introducing excellent fusion jazz, neoclassical music and electronica (and also some trip-hop) into the mix, sounding at times like a John Zorn project on one hand, and The 3rd and the Mortal on the other, with that Manes trippy and somber electronic vibe captured on the band's "How the World Came to an End_ from 2007. These particulars are mandatory in the case of this album, for the purpose of keeping the music flowing and interesting; when these 'additives' are absent from any given track for a long time (too long, sometimes), the metallic display in itself leaves a hollow space and much to be desired.

Hypnotic Dirge Records is a natural place for albums such as _(Un)Reality_, as it fits the label's vision and eclecticism, but this decent label has also showcased its tendency to release exceptionally good albums (Galaktic Cancer Squad's _Ghost Lights_ and Obsidian Tongue's _A Nest of Ravens in the Throat of Time_, for instance) alongside some very mediocre -- to say the least -- releases you wouldn't care for (Ekove Efrits' _Nowhere_ and everything that sounds alike on the label's discography). In that regard, Hypnotic Dirge awfully remind of Solitude Productions (with whom they co-released the very interesting _Once Hidden From Sight_ by the Ukrainian Vin de Mia Trix) in their mutual dichotomous nature of offering sonic excellence hand in hand with fluff.

The ultimate question is whether or not the writer of these very lines would add _(Un)Reality_ to his collection of selected and rare musical works of excellence. The answer would probably be 'yes', due to the fact the rather inconsequential metal moments here have been given such an enormous boost by the aforementioned saxophone, choral passages and electronic pieces, that they in themselves almost redeem the whole album with their radiating brilliance, saving it from becoming an effort soon-to-be-forgotten, and instead metamorphosing it into a rewarding listening experience with many magical moments.

Contact: http://hypnoticdirgerecords.bandcamp.com/

(article published 6/5/2014)

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