Quercus - _Sfumato_
(MFL Records, 2014)
by: Chaim Drishner (8.5 out of 10)
Quercus have made quite a big name for themselves in the underground doom metal circles despite their modest sonic crop thus far. _Sfumato_, Quercus' sophomore album that's been in the making for seven years since the band's debut, will hopefully make everybody, myself included, understand why this band deserve the appreciation and reverence they have been receiving, and nail down the respect they so much rightfully deserve once and for all.

Released on the promising young Russian label MFL Records (Moscow Funeral League Records), Quercus' sophomore full-length studio album is a tour de force of this Czech band's ability to create something unique using ordinary building blocks. It's like being avantgarde without really being avantgarde. Indeed, on a superficial level of listening to the album, one will hear the obvious: slow, melodic funeral doom meets doom/death metal with nothing too spectacular to offer. But that's only the outer layer of a much deeper, intricate sonic creation.

Subsequent listening sessions will yield curiosity, bewilderment and finally, awe. Trust me on that one, as I've heard too many bad albums in my long existence on this planet, that when it comes to recognizing a good album, I would know the difference.

Quercus' avantgarde is exercised through the music's paradigm, and that is, simply put, that you never know where the music's going to take you next. If there's linearity in music as well as chaos, then Quercus' music is as chaotic as it gets, in the sense it is unguessable, unpredictable, elusive, and there's no way of knowing what lurks behind the next corner.

You'll find yourself guessing, enthralled by the constant and rapid change of events, soundscapes, riffs and emotional peaks; every second here is a mystery, a revelation; and while you're being immersed in this sonic guessing game, the band keep surprising you with yet another unpredictable barrage of hostile sounds attacking you from a very different angle than a heartbeat before.

Filling their macabre ambiance with post-rock and post-punk references, Quercus' version of doom metal is removed from the norm, but not something that will make you go nuts over their material based solely on the band's ability to incorporate foreign aesthetics into their bloody, cavernous doom on display. That only adds to the band's fundamental attitude of writing music that is almost free-form, detached from rules and rigors of any kind, yet still sounding coherent, raw and ominous for all intents and purposes.

Trying to describe _Sfumato_ using words is like trying to describe architecture by dancing; in other words: impossible. But let's try, anyway.

Two major attributes are noticed here from the get go: the music's eclecticism and its ritualistic nature. So imagine you're on an absurd excursion with multiple sceneries exploding in front of your bewildered eyes while treading a crooked, thorny path that goes about its way in crazy angles, turns and drops. You have no idea where you're going and how you managed to arrive from point A to point B, and in addition, you feel this foul taste in your mouth; a biochemical Geiger counter that senses dark energies, negativity, pessimism and rot. And indeed, a foul taste of every pain existence itself has ever endowed us with, is represented, embodied, in Quercus' music.

The drums are phenomenally inventive and varied, and contrary to the traditional use of drums in doom metal album -- where they usually are but mere pace-setters -- on _Sfumato_ they play a lead role as the pushers and shakers of the music, a fundamental keystone that holds the whole of the structure together. It's the music's ritualistic engine as well as its avantgarde driving force, displaying playing patterns I don't recall ever hearing on a doom metal album.

The guitars are rich and expressive, playing across a myriad of effects and sound aesthetics, allowing the music to breath and expend beyond the walls of doom, into the post-rockish and black metal-esque terrains, and beyond. The synthesizers and additional elements such as brass instruments (or samples thereof) are beyond amazing, adding a true sense of horror and funereal vistas, not unlike what the mighty Abstract Spirit have been doing on their last couple of phenomenal albums. You'd hear a bell chiming, a trumpet blowing, single-note ghost-like keyboard strokes, processed and spoken verses, guttural belches from the age of fire and brimstone, and everything so neatly arranged, so elegantly stitched together -- a marvelous, progressive, night-side sonic wonder that will take you to the strangest, most vile and wretched locations hidden in the human soul.

The lyrics are on par with the sonic mindfuck on display, in that they are mostly abstract or kind of stream-of-consciousness. It also seems they are extremely personal, and could be only fully comprehended by the people who had written them, or by those who shared those cryptic experiences. Either way, the lyrics are surreal, to say the least, and reading them while listening to the music only enhances the morbid, fantastic sensation one is bestowed with courtesy of the well-crafted nocturnal sounds on _Sfumato_.

Anyone who's into exceptional and dark works of art, such as the earlier Bethlehem or Unholy records, would know to appreciate this album. You can easily put _Sfumato_ on the same pedestal with the greatest, most quirky, eerie, inventive and advanced aural works made by the aforementioned musical geniuses or by any other band you have ever listened to that transcended you beyond your earthly existence into places that are dark and bizarre, showing you sights you never knew existed, making you taste that foulness of bad-things-becoming-ever-worse in your mouth, begging you to hit that play button again, for yet another round of exquisite torture, showing you sights and conveying emotions you never knew are even possible to be created using music, and music alone.

Listen to this masterpiece once, twice, thrice; listen good, listen carefully. And only after that, will you begin to -hear-.

Contact: http://mfl-records.bandcamp.com/album/sfumato

(article published 29/12/2014)


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