I suppose it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to title a 75-minute album Time. Nevertheless, although Manetheren doesn’t quite provide the sort of experience that enthralls from start to finish, the band makes settling in for the long haul seem every bit as desperate and romantic as the struggle against that most ancient and implacable judge. Minneapolis’s Manetheren is primarily the creation of founding member Azlum, though on Time, the project’s fourth full-length album, he has recruited the well-worn talents of journeyman drummer (and mainstay of the Italian black metal scene) Gionata Potenti.
If the band’s new home on ghoulish French label Debemur Morti wasn’t enough to clue you in, the name of Manetheren’s game is black metal, and a thoroughly stretched-out, Burzum-descended black metal at that. At times the band’s approach seems to fall somewhere between some of the earliest (and often harsher) American disciples of Varg such as Judas Iscariot and I Shalt Become, and the thoroughly Frenchified modern contingent as represented by Alcest (particularly circa Le Secret), or perhaps the Amesoeurs EP. These are long, languid pieces that flit between ropey melodic sections and swifter (but still and always smooth) fits of blasting and bellowing, often bringing in wordless clean vocal undertones and the sumptuous layering of multiple guitar tracks.
The quiet, contemplative sections that serve as transitions between songs end up impressing more than other bands of this ilk because Manetheren doesn’t resort to any exotic instrumentation or overtly ‘folk’-influenced themes to create a placid or dreamlike atmosphere. Thus, while Manetheren’s not-so-subtly post-rock influenced black metal is far from original, it’s also far from simply sucking on the near-desiccated bones of the current zeitgeist. Some of the most pleasantly surprising moments occur when Azlum’s bass takes an unexpectedly active role, as it does halfway through “II,” and five or six minutes into “IV.” The conclusion of “II” sees Manetheren’s lush instrumental approach at its warmest apogee, drifting along with those understated clean vocals and some awfully Explosions in the Sky-ish tremolo lines.
Even given these many strengths, Time is unforgivably long. Individual songs work well enough in their extended skeletons, but with even the shortest of these six songs passing nine minutes, and three songs extending past twelve, the album loses the cohesive quality it might have retained by shaving off fifteen or twenty minutes. Tellingly, the album’s shortest song (“IV”) feels more complete and self-contained than many others because of its relative brevity (though it also succeeds by containing some of the album’s most aggressive moments), and the amount of sheer visceral satisfaction when the heavy bits kick in on “V” is indicative of the trials to which Manetheren subjects even the most patient listener. Still, with new blood in the ranks and a new label at its back, there’s every chance that Manetheren is perched right at the cusp of greatness, if only the grains that reckon secular time will stay their remorseless march through the glass.