"Contentum" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Norwegian avant garde/progressive metal act Atrox. The album was released through Season Of Mist in August 2000. It´s safe to say that the band´s debut album "Mesmerised (1997)" isn´t the most promising debut album I´ve ever heard, and I guess I´m not the only one a bit reluctant to check out "Contentum", because it took the band a fairly long time to find a label after "Contentum" was recorded in April 1999.
As it turns out Atrox have improved about 200% since the debut album and "Contentum" shows a band full of confidence, delivering intriguing music in a convincing manner. Stylistically the music on "Contentum" is probably still an aquired taste though. It´s a mix of doom and goth metal with avant garde and progressive elements. While it´s definitely metal, the guitars on the album actually only play a minor role and mostly work as a backing instrument and atmospheric keyboards and adventurous vocals are the dominant elements on the album. The strong rhythm section play some pretty great things too (the musicianship are generally on a very high level), but that part of the music also play second violin to especially the female vocals by Monika Edvardsen.
On the debut album I thought she sounded forced and out of key, but here she performs on an amazing technical level. Imagine if Kate Bush had turned into an evil and wicked singing witch from the middle east, who could also perform semi-operatic vocals and you´re halfway there. Edvardsen moans, screams, sings hauntingly beautiful clean vocals, talk/sings, use middle eastern vibrato extensively, and is more than worth the price of admission throughout the album. But she is so extreme in her delivery that it is bound to be an aquired taste if her vocals will appeal to you. So consider yourself warned. This is not music for the masses.
The material on the album are generally intriguing, dynamic, and well written, although it´s seldom instantly memorable and the complexity of the vocal lines often disturbs parts that could have been catchy. But this is obviously not music written with the primary purpose of being catchy. This is music written to be challenging both for the artist and for the listener, and challenged you will be, if you´ll hold on for the duration of the 11 track, 65 minutes long album. Personally I could have wished for a few more hooks throughout the album and at times Edvardsen´s vocals feel more like a show-off than anything that fits the songs, but ultimately I accept the premise that my musical conservatism is being challenged. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.