Monday, 8 May 2017

Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST (round 10): Ruinebell "Embers' grave" 12'', 2015

When I started to think about a possible roster for this series, I was confronted with a dilemma. Not the kind to keep me awake at night in a pool of sweat and tears, but one that still needed thoughtful consideration and inner investigation (if that helps, just picture me thinking hard while the sun is setting on a postindustrial landscape). The scope of Terminal Sound Nuisance has changed significantly throughout the years and even if I like to think that I managed to maintain some sort of recurring narrative motif for its contents to hold together cohesively, the idea to write about novelty - possibly our epoch's main shibboleth - raised a few issues in terms of the perspective to adopt. Not being particularly prone to rave purposelessly about the latest releases whose cool factor is often too transient to trust ("don't believe the hype" as they say), the relevant trope to be used in this particular case was uncertain. I knew it had to be different because of the novelty element of the works but it wouldn't have made much sense if I only focused on the excitement induced by discovery. There is nothing quite like hearing a cracking unknown recording for the first time but the feeling is not the same if the band is contemporary, especially since we fatally lack perspective about our current present context. How well will 2010's crust hold in 10 years time? And flowing from this interrogation, one also needs to ask: how unperceptive may these words eventually become? And where are my prescription pills?

But to get back on point, the "Ashes to ashes, crust to CRUST" odyssey is, because of its transversality, a fun opportunity to be enthusiastic about new records, focus on the priceless element of surprise and take responsibility for its impermanence. Which brings me to Ruinebell, because it is a band that I did not see coming at all and that I became acquainted with considerably later than I feel is appropriate considering the quality of their music. The fact that no one told me about them before is preposterous and, were we living under the French Ancien Régime, I would have thought of writing a nasty pamphlet and possibly settled things via a couple of bloody - but honourable - duels. But since it is 2017, I am just writing a new post entry, though rest assured that I hit the keys with bitterness in my heart right now.



I do not even remember how or when I first heard of Ruinebell but my first two reactions are still vivid. It was first "OMG this is absolutely excellent! Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?" and second "and a what lovely name they picked!". Obviously, the immediate lexical meaning of "Ruinebell" is "the bell of ruin", which aptly reflects the music's spectral mournfulness and fits with the metal/crust lexical field. But what about the "e" then? It is Ruinebell and not Ruinbell. In a short interview for Terrorizer (that you can read here), multi-instrumentalist Lasse explains that "ruine" is the French word for "ruin" and that they ended up using the former for their moniker because it looked better graphically. However, such a choice also created a rather pleasant double entendre as "ruinebell" is almost similar to "ruine belle", a phrase that translates as "beautiful ruin" and which meaning also coheres with the band's music. So even before I actually listened to the songs, I was already taken in linguistically though, to be fair, I am not sure the band really did that on purpose.

More than an actual band, Ruinebell can probably be best described as a studio project, which implies that we are not likely to ever see them play (which kinda sucks). It is a trio made up of two Finns - Pekka on the drums and Lasse on the guitar, bass and synth - and one Spaniard on vocals, so you can imagine that band practices must be few and far between. This said, the boys have solid experience in playing in bands indeed since Lasse and Pekka play together in Hooded Menace (and before that in Vacant Coffin and respectively in many other acts as well) while Dopi was the drummer/singer of long-running grindcore band Machetazo and has also played in such projects as Dishammer or Mutilated Veterans throughout the years. So not exactly an amateurish lineup and it certainly shows.



The initial idea behind Ruinebell was to write Amebix/Axegrinder-influenced metallic crust music with an industrial touch and heavy Voivod riffs without sounding too referential. Honestly, I could almost stop writing right there since they absolutely nailed the sound they were reaching for and their music speaks for itself, but as we all know, I won't. Their first Ep, Demise in grace, recorded as a duo (with Dopi playing the drums as well as singing) and released in 2011 on Czech DIY metal label Doomentia Records, is a coup de maître that demonstrates how brilliant axegrinding mid-paced doomy crust can sound thanks to concerted songwriting and proper ideas. The Amebixian vibe is strong and potent and yet it never feels old or literal, rather it is used as a binder to make new additions hold together. As they use the basic ingredients of old-school crust, they also update them. Ruinebell sound both old-school and modern and on that level they do remind me conceptually of early Morne. I am not going to dwell too much on the Ep (that, for reasons that may have to do with the unfamiliar label that released it and my own ignorance about the underground metal scene, completely passed me by until recently) but it has everything a crust-loving person can hope for. And yes, that includes apocalyptic moody synth parts and terrific bass-lines.



Embers' grace can be relevantly seen as Demise from grace's sequel, meaning that it is not just a follow-up but also a genuine progression. Assuredly, Ruinebell built on similar grounds for the 12'' and the amegrinder scripture still stands as the music's backbone but it is a more versatile and diverse work with a slightly different mood, not as mournful and more ominously mechanical. I suppose Ruinebell could have picked the easier path and write a full Lp that would have sounded just like a longer Demise in grace - and honestly, I would still have been thrilled - because their musical ability and their sense of clever songwriting would have allowed it, but they went for something a little different, globally more rhythmic and colder, the industrial influence more upfront. And it works. While crust has often been openly infused with black, death or doom-metal in recent years (with varying results, truth be told), I cannot think of many crust bands that have ventured into industrial sonorities since the 90's. The opening song, "Inexistence", epitomizes this shift, with heavy chugging riffs and cold, steely beats cloaked around the classic mid-tempo crust structure. Quite the perfect meeting point between Sonic Violence, Depressor, 13 and Axegrinder. The following track - "The hermit" - is a more orthodox locomotive old-school crust anthem, with a monumental driving synth, some wicked gloomy guitar arpeggios and even a progressive feel on one riff. Clearly an epic number that brings to mind vintage Greek crust, early Morne and mid-90's Counterblast for its inventive recreation of canonical crust elements. On the flipside, "Temple of isolation" is even more indus-influenced with its stark martial beats, super heavy bass sound and dark incantatory guitar riffs, not unlike a combination of early Godflesh, Killing Joke at their heaviest, the mighty Depressor and of course Amebix. Finally, "Flesh bone catacomb" is a galloping Amebix/Axegrinder song with a desperate doom feel concluded with an eerie spoken part that nods heavily toward vintage crust. Quite a ride in twenty minutes.

The production on Embers' grace sounds very clear, almost surgical, in the bleakest sense of the term, so it confers a literal metallic quality to the songs. This kind of production seldom works with the crust genre because it can make the music sound too clean and lose its filthy groovy edge, but in this case I feel it connects adequately with the band's songwriting intent. Because of the mid-paced 80's crust style of Ruinebell, one might think that going for this very cold modern production would have impaired and deprived the songs of their darkly threatening power, but thanks to a clever use of the synth as a texturing agent and a focus on heavy, precise, cold industrial rhythms, Ruinebell manage to offer a new relevant perspective on the genre, keeping it heavy but in a different sepulchral way. The musical abilities of the participants are obvious but always serve the general direction and help create a meaningful oppressive atmosphere that feels tense and sorrowful. I haven't talked about the vocals yet but they clearly demonstrate an awareness and a knowledge of the rules of the genre that are impressive. I can hear some Japanese crust influence in the harsh gruff tone, especially since the singer uses an effect on his voice, but also Steve from Neurosis if he tried to impersonate an entombed humanoid entity (the sorrowful lyrics also point in that direction actually). In any case, it shows that one does not have to squeal like a grossly constipated boar to deliver proper crust vocals and that, in the end, clever vocal placement is the key.



Embers' grace was released in September, 2015 on Doomentia Records (I still have not figured out how to correctly pronounce "doomentia" and probably never will) and I am pretty sure it is still available. The only reservation I can voice about this wonderful 12'' has to do with the artwork that does not really reflect the music (the cover looks more like a doom-metal one) and only partly illustrates the mood. Oh well, great records also have flaws I suppose. 




         

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