Saturday, June 25, 2011

Review: Skepticism - Aes

Given Skepticism's previously exposed penchant for lengthy, ambient-tinged, deliberately composed works, it seems almost inevitable that the band would eventually choose to make a release composed of a single track- it's actually more surprising that of their discography, 'Aes' is the only record in such a vein. That being said, it's good enough that the band probably doesn't NEED another such release under their belt. Of all the overambitious, massive releases in the history of metal, 'Aes' is one of the best, and one of the only that doesn't collapse under the weight of its own ambitions. I guess it's to be expected that Skepticism of all bands would be one to pull it off, but it doesn't make 'Aes' any less fascinating or ultimately thrilling a release.

'Aes' is where the first strains of Skepticism's 'Farmakon' sound start to emerge, forming a neat bridge between the more traditional works of their earlier releases and the wandering, grey, somewhat experimental material that would define their latter era. To describe it more succinctly, 'Aes' sounds like something of a 50/50 combination of 'Stormcrowfleet' and 'Farmakon,' with many of the overtly depressive, straightforward elements of 'Lead & Aether' oddly absent. 'Aes' is not a release that indulges in the more purely melancholic feeling of codified funeral doom- instead, it takes a more circuitous and interesting route. Built off subtle, slow, delicately constructed changes in mood, melody, and rhythm, 'Aes' takes a great deal of time to get where it's going, but never stops being compelling for the listener.

All of Skepticism's traditional features are present- large swaths of floating guitars, heavy, somewhat tribal drumming, and forward-pushing organs taking up the bulk of the low end- but 'Aes' is constructed even more sluggishly and deliberately than any other work in Skepticism's catalog. Opening with a churning, grey, confusing clash of melodic voices and surprisingly uptempo drumming, 'Aes' progresses through a series of extremely distinct movements over the course of its half hour running time, passing through more traditional, epic moments ala 'Stormcrowfleet' and oppressive, lurking, nervous material in the style of 'Farmakon,' constantly walking a tightrope between the more immediate and the long-term objective of the song. Skepticism understands that keeping the listener's attention during a piece as long as this requires a delicate balance between immediately satisfying, viscerally appealing melodies and a certain lack of resolution that keeps the listener curious, and Skepticism executes this magnificently through the perpetually shifting textures of the song.

Each distinct movement tends to take up a handful of minutes, allowing the band to tread water within a certain mood before moving on to the next, either with a gradual flow of instruments to another form or through the abruptness of a sudden musical pause or key change. It's very impressive how intense and exciting the band manages to make such slow, pounding music; you never feel like your patience is being tested by this EP. As usual, Skepticism's phenomenal grasp of volume dynamics, pacing, and repetition allows the music to breathe more fully than nearly any other metal band on the planet- slow shifts in tempo, volume, and vocal timbre all come together to make this a riveting and easily studied musical experience.

A lot of people like to talk about the classical influence on metal, which is an idea I appreciate in the abstract but generally dismiss as wishful thinking. It doesn't help that so many of the people who advertise this cite people like Yngwie Malmsteen as the carriers of such a musical legacy. However, I would absolutely suggest Skepticism as being one of the most truly neoclassical projects in metal today, and 'Aes' makes this clearer than possibly any of their other releases. If you're interested in something progressive- and I mean truly progressive, not 'prog'- you should absolutely acquire this disc and listen to it closely. With 'Aes,' Skepticism have achieved a level of compositional elegance and intelligence rarely matched elsewhere in modern music as a whole.

Buy this album on Amazon

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