The words dark, eerie, and ambient are oft-overused in the underground/indie metal scene, usually to describe overzealous cliché-driven artists churning out nothing more than pale imitations of the greats that preceded them. However, once in a while a band comes along that approaches these time-tested adjectives in an interesting and fresh manner. Black Autumn, the one-man German Ambient Black/Doom Metal brainchild of M. Krall, is one of these bands. Black Autumn's third full-length, Aurora, was released earlier this year. The 8-track album can only be described as epic, taking the listener on a beautifully dark and disturbingly haunting journey.
Blending the industrial metal-esque elements of heavy, dark synth use and programmed drums with expansive doom guitar riffs and sensitive post-metal melodic trem picking, Krall manages to create something that at first seems contradictory but in fact works very well together. The album opens with a short instrumental track, "Aion", which sets the tone and pace for the record quite well. The crushingly beautiful guitar chords are complemented by light melodic picking and heavy yet sparingly executed programmed drums; a sort of Alcest-on-a-bad-trip kind of vibe. Gradually one begins to sense patterns in the songwriting: dark synth passages sandwich heavy doom guitar work with sparse, almost whisper-screamed vocals. Krall blends diverse sounds well, the track "Seven Spirits" could easily be interpreted as a cross between Tool and Katatonia blanketed under a thick layer of doom. "Lightening Goeth from Fire" sports an incredibly trippy synth introduction, with franticly quick left-right panning throwing the listener wonderfully off balance before they are plunged back into a world of heavy half-time post metal. The second half of the album sees more ambience and texture, punctuated by Enslaved and Katatonia-esque guitar lines. The last two tracks (“Paradigma” and”Ugrund”), feature rhythms and synth lines that would not be at all out of place in a typical dubstep track.
The sparse nature of the vocals at times makes the songs drag, especially on longer tracks where the ambient sections are more expansive. However, overall the pace of the album makes some of the songs seem deceptively short. The fact that the drums are computer programmed is a little disheartening at first (especially to a drummer such as myself), but Krall obviously knows what he's doing. The samples are all incredibly realistic with one exception: the ride cymbal sounds like someone bashing an empty soup can with a spoon. In terms of composition, Krall's basic yet innovative approach to the drum machine sees him using a lot of syncopated grooves not normally found in such straightforward music. The title track is a great example, on this piece Krall utilizes a simple half-time funk sort of feel, almost reminiscent of certain late 70s-early 80s NWOBHM tunes.
Overall this is a very interesting album. Though the songwriting has a tendency to drag and is at times a little formulaic, the way Krall blends influences and sounds creates an incredibly dark and layered landscape. Hopefully future Black Autumn records will feature live drums instead of Drum Kit From Hell, but until then at least the programming is in the hands of an obviously very capable musician. If you’re in the mood for something dark – a different kind of dark – give this album a try. Check out the Black Autumn official site here.