Your affinity for The Process of Self-Immolation, the debut full-length from Nashville’s Alraune, may depend on your tolerance for genre traditionalists tinkering at the margins by melding together styles of black metal that don’t often function in tandem. Then again, your affinity for the album might simply depend on your reptilian enjoyment of black metal that kicks you in the teeth with a ferocious yet patiently corrosive celebration of the rawer end of the genre’s continuum.
The most immediate, calculated impression made by The Process of Self-Immolation is its self-imposed rawness: the guitars have sawed-off, blown-out edges; the vocals are distorted beyond measure; and the drums churn and pummel like a freight train with barely a general sense of whether it’s riding on the tracks. Everything in the red, all the time. And, when album opener “Exordium” pounces to frantic attention sounding like a white-hot Darkthrone ca. Hate Them /Sardonic Wrath, that rawness makes sense. As the album continues to whip up a hateful dervish, it becomes at times oddly reminiscent of the first two albums from Sweden’s Craft.
However, to take those initial cues, peg Alraune as a fairly standard raw black metal act, and call it a day would mean missing out on the cunning synthesis that gradually emerges on The Process of Self-Immolation. The four lengthy songs that fill out the no-time-wasted 38-minute album gradually reveal a band moving confidently in the same expansive, exploratory regions of so much American black metal. That’s not to say Alraune ever carries even a whiff of anything “Cascadian,” “blackgaze,” or the like, but their compositions are significantly more complex and involving than the album’s upfront rawness might suggest. “Simulacra” opens with sparse, clean guitar work that flits between contemplative and discordant. The song’s midsection furrows its brow so convincingly, though, that when that opening theme returns in fuller form toward the end, it’s initially almost unrecognizable. The careful craft of the album, however, is what ultimately makes a greater impression than any of its superficial aesthetic components.
Also speaking to the skill displayed in sequencing the album as a whole is the fact that it becomes more compelling the further in the listener wades, such that the last few minutes of the closing title track are an absolutely glorious squall. The band rides a killer riff progression into the numbing, ecstatic bliss of repetition, gradually degrading and corrupting the sound quality – as if the master tapes were slowly being licked by the self-same flames of the album title. Imagine The Disintegration Loops, but LOUD. (And, speaking of loud, the album’s most charismatic aspect could also turn out to be its most polarizing: Drummer Tyler Coburn, also of Nashville’s tooth-spitting sludge/grinders Yautja, hits his drums so unbelievably hard that you would think they had done him an existential injustice.)
Ultimately, despite its many strengths, The Process of Self-Immolation is a bit monochromatic. It’s not usually a problem for ultra-traditionalist black metal to just shred, blast, screech, and stop (cf. Old Wainds), but with Alraune’s compositional subtlety and sweeping, stretched-out songs, some tonal diversity would have been welcome. As it is, this is a confident debut album that suggests even better things are almost certainly in the band’s future.