Thursday, January 6, 2011

NETRA - "Mélancolie Urbaine" Review

Full-length - Hypnotic Dirge Records
December 16th, 2010

It seems over time, even the most diverse of genres eventually will reach a point of creative stagnation, and while dedicated fans will always find the good in many releases thereafter, skeptics such as myself will perpetually long for change.  This wouldn’t be such a problem if innovation was as easy as fusing two things together.  Unfortunately many acts will in turn capitalize on this false notion and try to mix water and oil by taking two or more genres of music that alone are perfectly acceptable but do not share complimentary characteristics that make such fusion acceptable.  While at first the general public might praise these as something new, (such as the abysmal rap rock styles that dominated the late 90s and early millennium) eventually the popularity wanes as people realize it is too gimmicky and stale.  Instead of progress we suffer listening to musical regress.

That being said there are always cases where acts can do one of three things. They can completely create a brand new genre. This being the most revolutionary, was common place in the formation of modern music, but with many genres and subgenres in existence today is very difficult to do.  Also uncommon but more likely is an artist reinventing a specific genre’s foundation.  The rise of progressive rock acts in the 60s and 70s is a prime example of this.  Finally more common would be an artist who incorporates various stylistic influences particularly well.  Experimentation and understanding of music concepts is key to this, and like mixing different foods, the result can be hit or miss.  A smart musician will make note of what works and what does not, and continue from there.

Through all this I am left with a depressive black metal band called “netra.”  The name derives from an old Breton word loosely translating too “emptiness” and this one man project from France offers us a musical styling that fits somewhere between the latter two options from those three forms of progression I’ve mentioned.  Intelligently and organically this artist takes a primary influence from doom and black metal and incorporates influences from gothic rock, various jazz genres, blues rock, and downtempo electronica genres such as trip-hop.  While other acts would fail miserably to incorporate such fusions in a natural, meaningful and mature way and simply take the quick way out by cashing in on a cheap gimmick, netra differentiates himself by putting a lot of thought and effort into creating a truly unique and groundbreaking creation, that while experimental in nature developed a distinct sound which is key to critical acclaim in any artistic endeavor.  With the debut full length Mélancolie Urbaine seven depressive and meditative tracks await listeners with almost forty two minutes of progressive music experience.

This monumental release begins with “City Lights.”  From the opening listeners will question if they are actually listening to a metal release as a trip hop rhythm welcomes us into the harsh inner city lifestyle accompanied by thought provoking nü-jazz saxophone plug-ins.  In fact no metal is to be found until over two minutes into the track when a cold power chord crashes in accompanied by the painful wail of a black metal shriek.  The passage doesn’t last too long as the contemplative acid jazz returns further soundtracking the nature of metropolitan life.  Another couple minutes and the black metal really takes it’s toll; swaying back and forth between depressive angst and melancholic downtempo and ambiance.  The whispers and screaming accompanying this art only further explore esoteric reflections and suffering within urban decay.

To follow up this solid opener the most accessible track of the release finds us in “La Page.”  While still relating to the sound that defines Mélancolie Urbaine there is a slight shift to a more gothic rock inspired release.  Humming feedback along with shimmering ambient notation greets an intrusive drum beat rather intimately as this magnificent piece slowly builds up into an epic outcry of mournful rage almost in protest of the very nature of modern society.  As the metal sound returns we reach the climax of the emotion which over time fades to a more somber tone. “… I lost my family, I lost my friends, I lost my love… nothing left but memories, false moments…” these are very simple lyrics but so effective.  The song then builds up again and crashes into grief to conclude.  If the listener is weaning himself into the netra sound, this one is the best song to start with.

The follow up tune, “Outside… Alone” keeps the gothic inspiration though heavily incorporates 12/8 blues patterns to offer the most saddening track of the release.  This one is also the longest as it clocks in over nine minutes.  While the bass drives repetitiously the listener is greeted to a solid blues rock guitar lead, which keeps things interesting.  As this passage fades the bass changes and guitar feedback drives in as a tough spoken word from The Wackness. “Never trust anyone who doesn’t smoke pot and listen to Bob Dylan.” The voice builds up in exasperation as the guitars transition gradually from mere distorted chords to melodic passages. “Stop fucking around…” the voice goes into a panic, and then fades out to the sounds of seagulls by the ocean as the guitars while still distorted mellow out dramatically.  Trip-hop singing then comes in as the music slows to a halt just momentarily.  The music continues without field recordings and results in a much more anxious sorrow to slowly bring us to the electronic closing of this mature work.

“Through the Fear” is next up and brings the trip-hop rhythms back in.  This time with Tricky inspired bass and piano rhythms met with a similar distorted timbre in the background as track two.  We are met with chill-out style singing and eventually downtempo trance textures that cacophonously (in an appropriate sense) fuse with more black metal chords and suicidal cries.  The singing doesn’t leave at this time either.  Listeners upon leaving this passage will find a variation of the opening theme and more somber expression of yearning eventually heading back to the blackened doom metal inspired refrain.  We are met with an ambient bridge of more spoken word which pivots into blues rock and more of this Tricky inspired trip-hop piano to bring us to the refrain one final time. We end the track with the phrase from the Johnny Depp film, The Brave, “watching a painful death can be a great inspiration for those who, who are not dying, so that they can see how, brave we can be when it’s time to go.”

“Terrain Vague” is a short little interlude.  Nonetheless it has a great alternative rap beat to fit the mood of urban lifestyles.

It then enters “Outside… Maybe” and of all the tracks has the largest depressive black metal influence on the release.  With the exception of the prior piece, this is also the shortest being only about four minutes long.  While the black metal riffs play throughout with a downing lead crying every now and then, the electronica does not entirely leave the piece as ambient textures hide in the background.

Finally the album ends with the closing song “Blasé.”  This piece exalts the jazz inspiration of netra to its highest level thus far.  The rhythm seems very much like Dixieland shuffle notation wise, though in a strange but welcomed twist the tempo is very slow and we are only met with the slow throb of bass tones on the down beat.  Piano eventual accompanies this as the lead, in a slow and dismal melody.  In closing the music cuts with a low and dark tone played every other measure.  Quietly a voice speaks and eventually breaks into whimpers as the tones continue.  Concluding the album a scream of anguish followed by a slam, results in silent nothingness.

In my honest opinion of everything I have heard this album is the best release of the 2010 year not only in metal music but music in general.  There is never a dull moment and as mentioned this Quimpérois solo project did the unlikely and gave us an experiment that hits and truly breaks new ground for music in general, almost redefining the genre of black metal.  Not only does it stand above anything of the previous year, but this has secured a spot in my favorite albums of all time.  I must thank not only the artist but Hypnotic Dirge Records for helping me discover this modern classic.  For such a small label, they release some of the most underrated CDs in metal today, and this is no exception.  As one may already assume I highly recommend this release, not only to metal fans, but eclectic music fans in general.  Be one of the 1000 copyholders, you won’t be disappointed and for $13 ($15 outside of North America) it is well worth the investment.  You can order it here:

Reviewed by; Matt Coughlin