For as much as the genre flaunts its supposed nihilism and negativity, at its best, black metal produces a sort of ecstatic trance in the listener. Thus, although the style is easy enough to muster – vocals to maximum reverb, guitars to maximum tremolo, drums to maximum blast, bass to maximum… absent-bass-iness – it’s actually a tough thing to master. Push any one element too far out of balance, and the magic is gone. So it is with the debut full-length album from Minneapolis’s False.
Much like their Gilead Media labelmates Bastard Sapling, False plays a muscular, melodic style of unmistakably American black metal. Although their sparing use of keyboards evokes early Emperor and Satyricon, the similarities are surface-level only; where the melodic exemplars of black metal’s second wave spooled yawning, cosmic atmosphere out of the primary business of ice-cold riffs, False (and too many other adherents of this recent style of American artisanal black metal) aims for atmosphere first, with piles of often disjointed riffs mangled into cut and paste song sections after the fact.
All of this would be manageable if it weren’t for the album’s fatal flaw: the vocals. To say that the vocals are distracting is an understatement: they are monotonous, mixed at least twice as loudly as they should be, and often work in counterproductive contrast to the motion of the instrumentation. That is, while the drums and guitars are in frantic lockstep most of the time, rattling off swift melodic reports, the vocal cadence is oddly slow and detached, with single words stretched across entire measures. Again, if the vocals were mixed more sensibly, this wouldn’t be the detraction it is. As it stands, the serviceable sounds of the vocals are so absurdly out of balance that it feels like dumping a full gallon of ketchup on a single french fry.
Furthermore, although there’s much to be said for freedom from the metronome, the band’s looseness – in particular the drumming – often tilts into a sloppiness that obscures the otherwise capable songwriting. And even when timekeeping isn’t at issue, the snare drum is such a loose, wet thwack of a thing that it sticks out awkwardly instead of highlighting or complementing the other instruments.
Even with those blemishes, False has the trappings of a decent young band with plenty of room to improve. A song like “Entropy,” for example, could benefit from a little more of its namesake. Each of its sections is fine, but each goes on too long without much development – repetition without reinforcement. It’s also telling that the best song on the album is also its shortest by far (“Untitled”). The closing three minutes of “The Deluge” are excellent, as the band pulls back into a clean doom lurch reminiscent of Pallbearer before returning in full feral mode with a lovely clean vocal cadence that nonetheless only serves to highlight how much the album as a whole could have been improved with more such variation.
False is still a band to watch, because despite the follies of this album, their passion is evident (even if it outstrips their current compositional abilities). If they can sharpen their songwriting, corral their sometimes excellent, cutting riffs into building blocks instead of stones dropped roughly near or on other stones, and – for all that is right and good – take a long, hard look in the mirror the next time they sit down at the mixing board, they might just have the makings of the stirring paean to emotional rawness they’re clearly aiming for.