Pushing the Boundaries into Darkness
Despite the opinion of the standard music listener, metal has always been an experimental genre. Its roots are embedded in a time when heavy guitar and guttural roars were both unheard of and considered repulsive, tilting along the boundaries of what could be considered music. Since those years long past, the roots of metal have grown into a gnarled, but lively and innumerably branched tree, where the spirit of experimentation still lives on. To see that still-beating black heart of metal, one needs look no further than IIVII’s latest record, Invasion, which thrusts any unsuspecting metal lover into a world of electronic drones, retro keyboard and skin-tearing atmosphere.
The album is quick to make its presence and intentions known after the intro track. “Unclouded by Conscience” is a slow, somewhat plodding number that, despite its minimal pace, is undeniably brutal. The atmosphere from front to back is wildly intimidating; the unnerving slow synths almost promise violence and are sure to remove any sense of ease or comfort from the listener. The first portion of the track is largely spent on atmosphere construction, but, by the time the middle point hits, all this work is seen to be well worth it. The second that 3:50 hits, the song removes its sheep mask to reveal the wolf underneath. The synths sweep lower and lower as a crackle builds in the background, before finally culminating in a bone crushingly deep drone at 4:54. After this moment, the song delves deeper into itself, feeling much more like a drone metal track than the experimental, dark electronica that the listener may have been expecting. The second track does little to alleviate this stress, perhaps even making it worse. The synths on “Hidden Inside” are more constant, deeper and excessively rattling. The album thrives on building a terrifying atmosphere that, were it to play in the listeners headphones on a walk through the woods, would likely reduce them to a fetal ball, waiting for the sunrise.
The peak of the album is reached on the track “No More Enemies,” which wisely imitates two of the greatest modern artists, Blanck Mass and Fuck Buttons. The beat is intense and unrelenting; it employs static and choral chanting atop a driving layer that builds and builds with dark synths that bring to mind space flight. There is even something hopeful in the darkness. The drones rise and fall in an adventurous manner, forcing listeners onto a journey that they may not even have intended to take, but will find themselves company to nonetheless. These comparisons continue into songs like “Painless” and “We Live,” which are brighter for the most part — at least until the album stops in on the droning, hellish “You Die,” which is comprised entirely of unnerving chants and bowel-quaking bass rattles. Fortunately, IIVII’s understanding of balance keeps the album from ever slipping too far into the territory of darkness so it stays engaging and exciting.
Tip-toeing around Invasion is pointless; it will find and dominate you. It is more than a force to be reckoned with, it is the living, breathing instinct of metal to constantly change and push the envelope deeper into the darkness. There is almost nothing like this. Comparisons drawn are only to provide a modicum of context, and, despite its rarity — or perhaps because of it — it is an essential work that reminds its lucky listeners that metal will always push boundaries, and never in the direction one expects.