Alaric – End Of Mirrors Review

Unless you’ve been living under a very modern bridge that’s not at all gothic lately, you’ve noticed an intense resurgence in the post-punk, goth-rock, deathrock camp over the last five years or so. If you’re a fan of the style and enjoy digging through endless bandcamp pages, you can easily put a pretty big dent in your external drive with “modern” takes on the time-tested sound; a quick look at my library offers up twenty five bands hauled in from bandcamp alone, some of which lean a little more on the punk side, others more “wavey”:

Arctic Flowers
Bat Nouveau
Bellicose Minds
Crimson Scarlet
Die Young
Dystopian Society
Feeding Fingers
In A Lonely Place
Le Lettere di Anna
Liar In Wait
Lost Tribe
The New Flesh
Night Sins
Nite Fields
Ritual Howls
Saigon Blue Rain
Siamese Twins

“Hey, look at this gilded ballbag name-dropping like an amateur.” ~ You to me (you monsters)

The point isn’t to flex some sort of knowledge of the goth undercurrent, it’s simply an attempt to illustrate just how far reaching early bands such as Joy Division, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees and umpteen others of their ilk remain today, particularly within the last half decade or so – a trend that doesn’t seem anywhere close to ending. I guess the answer is fairly simple: absolutely everyone is a goth now.

Also worth noting, you don’t have to look like you fell out of Tim Burton’s arse to be a goth in 2016. All those hipster lumberjulians and gals with chunky glasses and half-shaved heads? Goths. Your uncle Pete might spend most of his free time these days posting photos of regional growlers on his facebook page, but he was probably listening to First Last and Always thirty years before you discovered Chelsea Wolfe.

Here is a recent photo of Earth taken from the International Space Station:

And of course, gothic and metal have coexisted in various forms from day one, but it’s the punkier and rockier end of the gamut that’s causing the most pronounced shift for our realm in recent years. The most flagrant and widespread rejuvenation occurred around 2013 with Beastmilk’s Climax, a record that pinged radars for a number of metal fans because of the Kvohst/Dodheimsgard connection. But eclipsing that release the same year, at least for yours truly, was the goth-rock tinged records from Brooklyn’s avant-garde metallers Vaura and Sweden’s In Solitude.

What was often neglected from those records, however, was the harder nod toward the rackety, dissonant moments that so many of the progenitors of the post-punk side of the spectrum relied on to balance the gloomy beauty of their works. The noisy “In the Night” and “Swing the Heartache” that contrasted the alluring hum and drift of Bauhaus’ “Silent Hedges,” for example, or the way Joy Division balanced “New Dawn Fades” with “She’s Lost Control.” The offset of beauty and beast in this manner is what preserves such a high energy level for these records, even 35 years later, and it’s a principle that the Bay Area’s Alaric appreciates and takes to heart. Even when things are at their prettiest – a common occurrence with this band – a little extra wooziness in the bass or vocals, or a spare dose of acid-bite to the guitar tacks the requisite amount of muskiness to the overall elegance.

Something worth noting is that while End of Mirrors boasts the heaviest moments the band has dropped to date, Alaric is not a very metal band. However, they’ve always been marketable to the metal community, thanks in part to the metal-minded 20buckspin Records releasing their self-titled debut and the subsequent split with Portland’s Atriarch. But there’s also a clear metal appeal because of the band’s pronounced emphasis on slow, raw, doomy dirging that’s conducive to seclusion, and we all know how much heshers love their voluntary pessimistic detachment. Ultimately, the closest kinship in terms of heaviness – and heaviness does crop up throughout End of Mirrors, particularly toward the close of “Mirrors” and every bit of the surprisingly weighty title track – falls within the modern Amebix/Tau Cross (and therefore Killing Joke) camp, so there’s a sense of raw chunkiness during the album’s weightiest moments.

Without question, though, the chief selling point here swings on Alaric’s ability to channel their post-punk predecessors. Rick Jacobus’ woozy and free bass play meshes beautifully with Russ Kent’s shimmery/somber guitar work on each song, casting a splendidly gloomy blanket that matches the album’s cover artwork perfectly. And that fluid beauty is suitably countered with varying degrees of off-kilter noisiness to ensure the full experience remains rooted in raw emotion. At times, the disturbance is a bit more subtle, like the way “Wreckage” comes out of the gate with that lovely little rolling bass line, only to get knocked a pinch off balance by Russ’ marginally off-kilter guitar lick, or the manner in which Shane Baker’s hackles occasionally rise as he allows his glum yowl to become just a little more urgent.

Other times, the jarring noisiness is more pronounced. “Adore” begins with the band’s favored dark driftiness, but it eventually crescendos into a much meaner brouhaha by its midpoint that’s quickly amplified by Jason Willer’s strength in powering through a magnificently thunderous drum outro. Additionally, Alaric have invited experimental noise/synth artist Thomas Dimuzio as a guest on the record, giving the corners a little more bedlam, most notably in the way that “Demon” opens the record.

Whether or not End of Mirrors eventually manages to eclipse the strong works the band already has under its belt remains to be seen. It certainly finds them in their darkest, gloomiest condition, which is really saying something. And for the fans who have grown accustomed to having at least one song that’s crestfallen enough to represent the aural equivalent of a swan-dive off the Golden Gate Bridge, this year’s version of “Alone” or “Weep” is “Angel,” which closes End of Mirrors on one of the more tragically epic notes we’re sure to hear in 2016. It’s a very appropriate end to a splendid slice of dismal gothic/post-punk/deathrock produced by a band whose members have been entrenched in the punk scene for many years. And lucky for them, they’re delivering some of their strongest material right in the midst of a rabid gothic trend.

End of Mirrors is available for preorder on CD and LP through the good people at Neurot Recordings, and a limited cassette run will be provided by the fiends at Sentient Ruin Laboratories.

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; That was my skull!

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