Seems there’s enough shittiness in the space of any given day and its spread far and wide enough that most anybody has surely at one time or another sat and wondered how in the living heck things got so shitty and arrived at the inevitable and maybe obvious conclusion that it’s us. All of us. In the grand scheme of things we’re all just terrible. Far less likely that the average pondering somebody turned that dismaying revelation into art, because most of us have neither the talent nor the wherewithal to turn thought into real stuff that means something real. Indiana’s Ecferus does though, regarding the latter, and has, regarding the former, and those happy happenstances have produced Pangaea, a 42 minute philosophical exploration of Man’s relationship with The Earth (Cliffs Notes: it’s strained).
Ecferus is the oneguy black metal project of a dude that calls himself Alp, and Pangaea is his second full length and fourth offering overall since Ecferus’ inception just last year. Because when you’re angered and/or frightened by the world enough to scream and stab and pound for 42 minutes and blame it all on the simple existence of goddamned people, what better medium than black metal? Ecferus is Latin for savage, as in Primitive Man, and this record tells the story of how Pangaea, né Land, son of Earth and brother to jerk siblings Ocean and Air, created animals for companionship and then came to favor Humans for their ingenuity and hardiness. Enamored with the Humans’ insatiable ambition, Pangaea was blind to the destruction that came in the wake of progress and threatened to consume his mother Earth. Finally turned by what he viewed as the Humans’ treachery, Pangaea reconciled with Earth, Ocean and Air, the lot of them now bent on subjugating the Humans.
Not the most original or creatively conceived treatment of an old idea, but a fun one and perfectly suited to the brand of black metal Alp offers here. It’d be easy to just plunge a bunch of sinewy tremolo and blast beats into a bucket of goat’s blood and click record; wrap all that up in a bow of freshly rended pig’s hide. It would certainly beget plenty of grim and bleak, but it would also lose all the dynamics of volcanism and tectonic upheaval, not to mention the interpersonal fireworks to which the metaphor is tied. So better that Ecferus works hard to capture all that with the kind of variation in composition, tempo, meter, tonality and melody that earns the progressive badge but that doesn’t wear it like one; that is, the subgenre choice is necessary to the art.
Pangaea’s composition is important; intro and outro separated by four grand movements depicting the rise and fall of Humans, and those separated into halves of two each by a brief but audacious transitional piece. Important because the build reflects not only the story arc but the artistic reverence and adventurousness of Alp. The intro, “First Light,” portends the conflict to come with ambient tones and piano engulfed by waves of tremolo and drumbeats that suggest a tribalism at the heart of chaos and the feeling that somebody’s hard at work here. Crafting. Which makes sense as “First Light” fades and launches the “Creation of a Planet,” where epic drums and bass are wrapped in lively arcs of guitar, tracing the movements of Earth the architect’s hands as she waves the world into existence. Intermittent discord, breakdown and angularity suggest barely reined madness but just briefly as the early riffs are bent to accommodate propulsive toms, ushering in a slow crescendo that culminates in an ethereal lead before finally punching that early creation motif back to the front. By now the urgency of those riffs has shifted from design to execution, Mother Earth anxious to unleash her progeny as an obsidian lead melody foreshadows the Human blight to come in “Reciprocity of Disrepair”, three tracks later.
Energy changes course again in “Fragmented Body” from construction to freneticism that shapes the path for major shifts of tempo, time and tone to help forward the story. Alp’s vocals play a more prominent role here, and are good, as the rasp of blackness goes. But despite the depth of its story, Pangaea isn’t about the vocals any more than is most black metal. Subtle differences demarcate the parts of the various players, but mostly Alp just makes satisfying growls and shrieks that fit the music and don’t overwhelm it, and that black metal fans should like just fine. Rather, Pangaea is an exercise in atmosphere, but one that exploits an array of distinct guitar lines as a wonderfully evocative and fluid element of the musical landscape he paints.
Alp’s creativity, though, isn’t limited to that lead guitar, as he has a whole lot of fun aiming to blow up your orthodox black metal head in “The Human Transition.” The world-birth motif is cast into the shadow of the rise of The Humans, played to the sounds of the rise of The Terminator. It’s a very strange experience in the middle of this record, machine-made sounds beamed straight out of an 80s horror movie, and one that doesn’t obviously fit the theme (unless synthetic keys really are the best representation of the whole of Humanity). Even so, it’s brave and that’s surely worth something. It’s also well-executed, synthwave tension setting the stage for the young world’s first divisive rift, as Humans forsake their first, staunchest, only ally.
Remember, now, the importance of this record’s composition; Pangaea post-Transition isn’t just about the story but shows us where Alp wants Ecferus to go. To this point, the black metal has been enjoyable and done well but fairly standard, but then that crazy transition and now “Reciprocity of Disrepair” delivers riffs and leads that call to mind Immortal at their later-era drivin’est, and Elite’s wind-whipped mountainside battle cry in particular, reflecting the spill of tension into bloodpools as Earth and Human give each other the absolute worst of what each has got. Where those driving riffs are driving to, though, is the key, as it turns out they’re making their way to the boreal glow at the edge of the world. A little more than a minute’s worth of cosmic mercury lead guitar traces portents in the sky before landing in a new round of stop and build tension, more twisty amelody. Finally, a hard charging gallop launches the final couple minutes, teetering on the edge of calamity until Alp revives the ascendant riffing, this time with a surer sense of conquest, or at least resignation to the long fight.
It might even be that “Reciprocity,” and so the album generally, represents Alp’s struggle against and subsequent victory over his own status quo and the ensuing battle that rages on. One need only look to the last few minutes of final track, “Storms Continue On,” to make the case. The storm coalesces from a spoken word and acoustic intro, bass and drums the thunder at its core, guitars the whipping winds and rain, and cymbals the coursing lightning. It all builds to a sky ripping tension from which drums fall into a steady march and tempestuous guitars roll into defined whirls, all of it rising to a peak, where it is left fully unresolved; quick stop, to emphasize the perpetuity of the battle.
By the time Pangaea closes after a brief ambient/spoken word outro, one’s likely forgotten a couple of things: 1) that this didn’t start out as a particularly original idea, and 2) that shitty things continue to fuck the world right outside the window there. Because 1) Pangaea is full enough of some really great ideas that are executed from so closely to Alp’s heart that it overcomes a little bit of conceptual naiveté and superficial similarity, and 2) even if most of the shittiness we do is the same ol’ shittiness we’ve always done and is ultimately self-inflicted, we also make awesome things like kids and ice cream and heavy metal music that get us through it every day.