I think consistency sometimes gets a bad wrap in the music world. Consistency in terms of style, not quality, obviously. While I consider myself grateful for bands that choose to stretch their boundaries (or in some cases annihilate their boundaries) album-to-album, I think there’s a lot to be said about the Bolt Thrower‘s, Slough Feg‘s and Manilla Road‘s of our genre. These are the bands we can comfortably hang our hats on at the end of the day. But it’s also a line that’s proven difficult to straddle for some bands, instead hurling them into the dreaded land of “playing it safe.” Luckily, that’s something these San Franciscan’s have nothing to worry about, as they constantly find ways to dapple the corners of their releases with enough variation to keep listeners captivated, and The Tenant is another prime example of just that.
Stack Ludicra‘s fourth full-length next to 2002’s excellent Hollow Psalms and you’re sure to hear the differences. Their sound today doesn’t lean as heavily on “pure” black metal, but primary vocalist Laurie Sue Shanaman still shrieks like her cords are literally on fire, and a cut like “A Larger Silence” clearly shows the band can still flail and tremolo pick with the best of them. We’re simply witness to nearly a decade’s worth of slow-shifting the core emphasis closer and closer to a motley, weird conglomeration of nearly any and every branch of extreme music, so it’s probably easiest to refer to them as “progressive” at this point. Progressive extreme metal that’s undoubtedly still “Ludicra” sounding.
One of my favorite things about this band is how prominent each member’s presence is on each tune. The musical pedigree behind the outfit is incredibly strong, and all that experience is put to great use here. Agalloch‘s Aesop Dekker strikes the perfect balance between drumming calmly as accompaniment and kicking directly to the throat when the momentum needs a push; Ross Sewage (Impaled, Exhumed, Ghoul, Phobia) gets ample spotlight to let his driving bass rhythm flutter, bruise and batter; and the duo guitar assault between Christie Cather and John Cobbet (Hammers of Misfortune, The Lord Weird Slough Feg) stir up enough addictive riff and melodic lead breakouts to satisfy even the most persnickety of extreme metal’s persnickets. All this musical goodness is wrapped beneath an absolutely caustic rasp from Shanaman that’s occasionally tempered by a cooling, celestial male/female clean vocal complement in the background.
Another great asset to Ludicra‘s sound is how quickly they can turn on a dime in terms of tempo and genre shifts. This makes it relatively difficult to filter out all the album’s highlights succinctly in a review like this, so I’ll just point out that I feel The Tenant strikes hardest with the galloping attack of “In Stable,” with its impressively heavy start, elder Fates Warning-like leads, and awesomely epic close; the Voivod-inspired/prog-rockin’ chugger “Clean White Void”; and the visceral (yet strangely chipper) barrage of the 10-minute “Truth Won’t Set You Free.”
Yet another great album from one of the Bay Area’s most exceptionally talented bands. It’s been a long four year wait, but the manner in which The Tenant blends and bends multiple forms of extreme metal into something that’s become a signature “Ludicra sound” shows that the guys have been doing good things during the downtime. Highly recommended for those with an affinity for stellar progressive extreme metal.