Amestigon - Thier

I love this fucking album. It gets so many things right, and I'm perplexed by how little attention it received in 2015. Hailing from Austria, Amestigon have been active since 1995, making it all the more puzzling to me that I've never heard of them. What initially piqued my interest was the involvement of Silenius (Abigor, Summoning) with this record, but I was quickly drawn in for plenty of other reasons.

Thier is comprised of four lengthy compositions, ranging from 11 minutes for the shortest track to 20 minutes for the title track. The music here is fundamentally black metal, but this is not your typical lo-fi blast fest. Amestigon has a unique approach that I found difficult to categorize or compare to other acts past or present. The songs utilize long and dark chord passages with symphonic underpinnings that evoke a sorrowful, bleak and occult atmosphere.

The compositions have a repetitive feel and often devolve into slow or mid-paced riffing and arpeggios accented by synths with a meditative quality. Amestigon, however, is not afraid to unleash speed and fury when it is called for, and this makes the aggressive sections rewarding and effective. Despite the long track times and repetition, the band does an excellent job keeping the listener's attention with creative twists and turns in chord progressions and careful layering of sound. The vocals often repeat similar lines over and over, something I initially found strange, if not somewhat irritating. However, the method quickly grew on me as it nicely complements the ritualistic spirit of the record.

There are plenty of slow and crushing moments, but stylistically Amestigon's sound does not strike me as doomy. Rather, the inherent heaviness comes from the production that is overall clean but favors the low-end. The guitars and kick drum especially have a bassy quality that beefs up the slow and sludgy sections. Unfortunately, however, as a result, the fast and more traditional black metal parts tend to sound somewhat muddy. I found myself tweaking the equalizer to tease out more high-end bite from the guitars during otherwise epic blasting/tremolo parts. In the end, this is not a huge problem and adds a muscular quality to the sound that is often lacking in black metal. The drums are crisp and clear and stylistically have a cymbal-heavy post-metal vibe that I found refreshingly tasteful. The drumming is also remarkably on-point for traditional straight ahead moments.

Thier's most impressive quality is their attention to detail. For example, the majority of vocals are a high-end sneer and Silenius' familiar reptilian snarl appears prominently on the title track. However, a variety of clean and harsh vocal stylings are carefully peppered throughout for subtle effect without ever distracting. The synth work is unassuming and provides a background bed of strings, bells, and other tasteful textures. Careful attention was also put into guitar tones and their interplay with the keys.

In sum, I'm struck by the balance and maturity on display. Amestigon manages to blend modern and traditional elements of black metal into a minimalist aesthetic that is truly unique. I look forward to exploring this band's back catalog to trace their development and cannot wait to hear their future efforts.