EPITIMIA — (Un)reality (review)

EPITIMIA — (Un)reality album cover Album · 2014 · Atmospheric Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
Split Realities

(Un)reality is a new double album from Russian black metal band Epitimia, their fourth full-length, although they have also released several splits and EPs with bands such as Gmork and Circle of Ghosts. This is the first I have heard of Epitimia, sent to me by Hypnotic Dirge Records after I wrote a glowing review of their previous release, No Stars, Only Full Dark by Windbruch. Epitimia, on this album, play a similar vein of atmospheric black metal to Windbruch, but instead of the clean vocals and blackgaze production, they opt for more eclectic influences, most notably the frequent use of a saxophone and female vocals, as well as some interesting electronic segments, calling to mind the likes of the late 90’s post-black metal scene of Arcturus and Solefald.

(Un)reality is a long record, spanning two disks and nearly two hours of music, so I did as I normally do with double albums, to treat them as separate entities within a whole, and listen to each separately to gain individual opinions on the halves of this album. The band even names them separately, Delusion and Illusion, both containing a separate introductory and outro track, with a suite of sorts in the middle of each disk. Although many would strain to hear the significant differences between the two disks, given that both are rooted firmly in atmospheric black metal, but after several listens I can note a number of differences, the most prominent being that nearly all my favourite moments of this album happen during the second half, Illusion.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy Delusion to a certain extent. The first album focuses more clearly on the saxophone, and is a darker, grittier, more black metal album on the whole, even drawing sometimes from depressive/suicidal black metal during some of the heavier tracks. The sax is in nearly every track here, fiddling around on top of the harsh vocals, and even getting some clear soloing moments, like during the intro track “Birth”, which is more or less a smooth jazz track with some great distant strings. During the heavy moments, I’m inevitably going to compare this to John Zorn and the Naked City records, but this is in no way as brutally pummeling as those records. The sax will regularly play the same line as the guitar, just for added contrast, but the timbre of it really brings a new dimension to the often samey sound of black metal. When it plays the dissonant and tritone-heavy riffs in some of the more DSBM tracks, it truly sounds surreal, somehow meshing perfectly with the harshness and cold atmosphere.

But there is a downside to the dominant focus on the saxophone, being that it is probably the only unique feature here. Sure, there are riffs that work really well, but most of the time through this disk I’m listening out for the saxophone, not really focusing too hard on the actual music. Whenever it appears, it lifts the music up in terms of complexity and its uniqueness, but I feel this may be the only reason I can enjoy this first side. There are some truly excellent sax solos, my favourite being the one during “Contemplation”, as well as the violent ending to the disk in “Metanoia”, with the sax playing some fantastic changing time signatures over abrupt riffing, but I honestly can’t recall a big amount from this side that stood out that wasn’t brass-based. There’s a great riff about two and a half minutes into “Ataraxia”, which is one of the best on the whole two-disk set, and the avant influences like the electronics in “Post-Scriptum” or the ethnic break in “Frustration” definitely bring some interesting influences, but I feel like I enjoy this disk in spite of it being black metal, never because of.

But as I mentioned earlier, the second disk, Illusion, is far more to my liking, and is actually a solid and well-written atmospheric black metal album. There’s far more focus here on riffs and atmosphere, as well as the haunting female vocals. The sax is replaced completely by these vocals, as well as some distant synths and tremolo-picked guitars. This new, more mellow atmosphere even occasionally brings comparisons to the blackgaze movement, particularly during tracks like “Catharsis” and the opener “A Flash Before Death”, which could come straight out of Écailles de lune-era Alcest. The electronics are also far more prominent on Illusion, with “Reflection” being mostly dominated by glitchy programmed drums, which in contrast with the instrumentation remind me a lot of Vilosophe-era Manes.

But the star of the second disk in my opinion, and probably the reason I prefer it to the first, is drummer and vocalist Maria, whose clean vocals dominate at least half of this album, in haunting darkwave-style ambience. “Far Away” comes in (after a stunning transition out of the glitch-fest of “Reflection”), and she soars over the heavy guitars, reminding me a bit of Dark Sanctuary or Elend; those epic and symphonic bands in the revival of neo-classical darkwave. “Foretime” is probably my favourite track in the entire 2-disk set, because of the lead melody that Maria sings so wonderfully over the instrumentation.

(Un)Reality, as a whole, is what most double albums are – long-winded, epic length, and could totally make a fantastic single record if it was shortened. But split this into two and you’ve got two pretty decent black metal albums, showcasing different sides of the band. I’m not going to rave about this, but for fans of black metal, I can completely see this being thought of highly. It may be long-winded, but it’s also consistent and well composed. Fans of the post-black metal bands and the new blackgaze movement alike will enjoy parts of this record, and it should be enough to cement Epitimia on the modern black metal map.

Delusion: 5.9 Illusion: 6.7

Overall: 6.8

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog
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