The first thing that struck me as I set up this album for review was the album cover artwork. Created by visual artists Dehn Sora and Aeron Alfrey the initial effect is striking and in a larger format could captivate the imagination long after the music inside has ended. I first heard “Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness”, the first new album release by Ephel Duath in some five years, directly after listening to some mid-1970’s Frank Zappa. Whilst not an obvious comparison when hearing the music, the complexity and density of the arrangements bear a striking similarity to the way Zappa’s music comes together.
Time signatures and tempo appear chaotic, but closer listening suggests otherwise. It may be considered lazy to categorise the music here as progressive, jazz or black metal. It is all of these things combined, but at the same time it almost creates its own category. The vocal style here is guaranteed to alienate listeners who prefer the unintelligible growl, as each line is delivered just on the brink of lucidity, which somehow makes for a more unsettling experience. There is violence and aggression in the lyrics and their delivery, but also a disturbing clarity. Ephel Duath‘s dual male/female vocals on a track such as ‘Those Gates To Nothing’ add a further dimension of sound to an already rich blend.
In reality, apart from the brief interlude of ‘Hemmed by Light’, which provides respite with its tender cymbal splashes and fragile guitar, there is little to distinguish each of the eight tracks here. There are fiendishly intricate guitar, bass and drum passages, which, in a similar way to how the vocals unnerve, are disarming in their strident production. That is not to say however, that they each conform to an immovable formula, which render them tedious. Each tune appears almost as a building block in a continuous narrative and there is almost a palpable sense that the listener is being taken on some journey, with the destination being a few uncomfortable truths. From the opening of ‘Feathers Under My Skin’ the music screams progressive. A track such as ‘Within This Soil’ has a lot going on within, almost symphonic in nature, and has structure and layering that are reminiscent of some of the finest and longest serving progressive rock bands around. Occasionally it is difficult to pinpoint song structure, but this seems to be the point.
As far as Ephel Duath are concerned, there are no rules to write and play by, and this approach is what will lead many people who appreciate a fresh, distinctive sound, to committing time to listen. The music is never oppressive, despite having gothic influences, but at the same time it is not a comfortable listen. There is a considerable amount of experience and expertise in “Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness”, as, working alongside Italian maestro Davide Tiso, the line up includes Bryan Beller (who has played bass with Joe Satriani), Marco Minnemann (drums with Necrophagist, Kreator and Joe Satriani) and Karyn Crisis on vocals. This rich melting pot of talent produce an album that is not short of ambience, or originality.