Back with album number four, French metallers ETHS release their much anticipated new album, Ankaa. The band has been a rising star in the underground scene for several years now but does this new offering expand the band’s conquest into new horizons?
Nefas is a huge, atmospheric orchestral introduction, the fuzz of guitars and groaning, growling vocals lead us in for an intro track that tells us, the rest of the album is going to be uncomfortable, nasty and grimy. The resonance with the vocals comes from the feeling that the wall of music, heavy and beautiful, not like BEHEMOTH in places, or NILE, is compressing you into the dark and making you endure. Similarly, Nihil Sine Causa has a similar droning tone, the blast of rageful, erratic playing, the shout of lyrics contrasting against the haunting feminine vocals. Very nice indeed. There are some nice little production elements on the last third of the track, bringing forward the mix a feeling of deathcore. The vocals have a feeling of calls to prayer, of welcoming and at the same time, of unease that you aren’t sure you want to follow. Amaterasu washes in in a sweep of silence, of wind and emptiness before the great mix of styles comes into play. Part groove, part deathcore, it’s a brilliant blending of genres. What ETHS do best is combining genres, and making something you would never think possible, combining great atmospherics as well as full in your face beats and roars.
Sediti’s piano, gentle and decadent is great, as if echoing from another age, tinkling with pain and desire, tension in every note, as the vocals wash across. Interestingly, while the piano is mellow and decadent, the whispered lyrics over the sizzle of the symbols, it’s actually haunting catchy, a track you can easily latch on to, and find yourself becoming a part of the choir. The blast beats, the incessant nature of the track as it lurches and sways between atmospheric and brutal is pure delight.
Nothing on this album feels quite the same, which is undoubtedly a good thing, as Nixi Dii switches from atmospheric to high end Death metal, with some magnificent, progressive elements, slow and brooding, the cool bend of strings, the hard edge of the bass and the drone of the interludes as the twin vocals feel like monk calls. The parallels to religion here might be slight, but the feelings of things older than ourselves living with this music is highly apparent. With so many layers to it, this feels like a standout track on this album. The middle part of the track, with all its synth and vocals, versus the next part, in which a baby cries, all feels very unnatural and uncomfortable, like a cold is breaking through, the energy of the music negative and angry, the story unravelling in your ears is one you don’t want to listen to, but can’t push the stop button on.
Vae Victis is like groove and doom all in the best kind of package, like a Jazz, Electro, Metal, Deathcore, Death Metal hyper fusion. It’s something very experimental, very different, and while it doesn’t completely together without flaws, it’s definitely worth a listen.
HAR1 is something completely on its own. Heavily influenced by the more Doom and Death scene, the vocals more audible, but no less powerful. The track itself also has a good amount of electronic elements to keep it feeling fresh, while the double bass drumming in places oddly compliments the high choir vocals of the chorus. The whispers and the extravagance of the track make this feel like VESANIA and SYSTEM OF A DOWN. ETHS have got a good thing going with their range of styles, as it’s entirely possible each listener will find something of a band they are familiar with in this music.
Sekhet Aaru is much calmer and doom-like, more serenity and collected contemplation. The term itself loosely refers to reed fields in the Egyptian, and this feels perfect for that title. Placing such a track at this point in the album is a smart move, as anywhere else it would be overlooked. Halfway through, the beauty of the piece, the elegance of the vocals and the toned down instrumentals are much easier to appreciate.
Here, we sidle nicely into Kumari Kandam, which for those not familiar, is the supposed continent that was lost in the South Indian Ocean. If you gain nothing else from listening to this corker of a track, which has something of SEPULTURA to it in places, you might find yourself on something of a quest of knowledge. Perhaps that is what this album is, a journey between concepts in music, history and mythology, the collective outcome something transcending cultures and creating a musical identity the likes of which has not been seen before in Metal.
Alnitak is also more subdued, as the latter part of this album becomes more tonally shaded, more focused on the spaces between the complex playing and the various vocal styles. It’s a nice change of pace and demonstrates the room to expand this kind of music. Focusing predominantly on blunt chords and drumming, there is a brilliant transition from traditional to electronic. In complete contrast to this, Alnilam starts back into the ripping Metal that looks more towards Hard, Classic kind of playing. While it’s not the best track on the album, many will enjoy the roar vocals and the nice little riffs.
Finally we come to Mintaka, which brings back in the traditional feel of the drum, and the chiming feel to the melody. It’s a shame to have put the previous track so late in the album, as all but that track in the latter half have a similar feel, echoing back to a more soulful time and a more contemplative kind of Metal. The licks in this guitar work are so understated, while the rhyme and vocal sections brave the brunt of the song, the warping synth pulling a final space-age feel that links well with the feeling of pervious tracks.
In essence, Ankaa makes you look at the length of time that has spanned, the great wealth of history and scope that has passed; the amazing amalgamation of different genres portraying a sense of awe. ETHS are truly mastering their craft, and it will be interesting to see how they go from here.
Ankaa is out now via Season of Mist.
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