Au-dessus, End of Chapter, France, Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions, AO-058 CD Digipak (2017)
I must admit the cover art of this album blew me away – those coins on the child’s eyes really draw your attention. Ancient Greek mythology held that the dead needed to pay their way across the River Styx to Hades and the coins on the eyes were payment to the boatman Charon. The tradition persisted long after the Greeks converted to Christianity and even spread to other parts of Europe. Also with pennies over her eyes, the child looks soulless, an empty husk. The way the photo is shown as a close-up, in a very severe and minimal way, is very intriguing and invites questioning. I guess the band Au-dessus also hopes you’ll listen to the music behind the cover art after you’ve had a good look!
In spite of the album’s title, the recording is Au-dessus’ debut full-length and a very impressive effort these guys from Lithuania have put out: raw, scrabbly with a harsh and sharp sound, very clear in tone, with a good production that allows for some frigid atmosphere to intrude and add some shape and depth to the music. At times the band’s sound is unbearably painful and you’ll swear it makes your ears bleed, it is very sharp and abrasive. At the same time the music is very melodic, not quite black metal, and it runs the gamut from sludge metal to near-thrashy. Calling it post-metal doesn’t quite do the music justice.
Numbered VI to XII – the tracks follow on from Au-dessus’ previous EP release – the music can be heard as a continuous set of seven parts or it can be heard as separate tracks. I always prefer to hear the music as a whole in the order the band had intended – this means listeners can hear how the music progresses technically, has a natural rise or drop in atmosphere and intensity of sound, and what deficiencies might exist in the music that would go unnoticed if it were all heard as separate tracks. The band has a very minimalist approach in developing their music as they play: songs are all very chainsaw-raw with a huge emphasis on melody and structure as the band opts for a severely minimal approach in deciding what instruments to use, how to play them, in what parts of the song should be played, and so on. The result is a sharp, mini-noisy guitar sound, fraying with live threads around its edge – it’s very pained yet clear, the production shows off the band’s wares very well, and yet you have the impression that whoever composed the album’s tracks must have been unhappy throughout. The bass melodies are sometimes different from the rest of the music and can be heard clearly even though they are down deep beneath the guitars.
Two major gripes listeners might have are that the band’s sound does not vary much from one track to the next and the wraith voices get buried far beneath the music to the point where they fragment beneath the sheer crush of the guitars and grinding bass. The tracks start to differentiate a bit more from one another after the halfway mark when the music slows down and doom influences appear. Even so, the album can be wearying and listeners may be challenged to keep up with long passages of harsh instrumental music.
I’d have liked a stronger emphasis on cold-space atmosphere early on and changes in that atmosphere as the album progresses but as it is, this work is a stirring introduction to Au-dessus and their brand of harsh post-metal.