FBR#4: Lantlos – Agape

Here is a pretty heavily-wrought review I wrote about Lantos’ Agape. I made a few edits since the facebook version.

 

Once in a great while, one has the experience of hearing music that feels immediately and overwhelming familiar. One feels as though the music was a part of them always. Instantly awakened is a strange but warm sense of idyllic false memory, a non-specific deja vu that makes listening feel like an organic act of homecoming. Perhaps this feeling fades as one grows more familiar with the intricacies of the artist’s work, but that initial wonder is forever woven into the fabric of one’s relationship with this music – it is a first impression preserved in soft focus, the languid haze of memory. If you are like me, you will seek out synergistic listening experiences in pursuit of that elusive, superlative, memory-experience-imagination wave – that holy moment of transcendent possibility that is unrealizable, yet made real by the glimpse you catch. Whether a languid summer spell in the park or a lonesome night drive on the interstate, the confluence of music and experience can tear holes in the fabric of the mundane and write memories in the language of innocent wonder. One could argue that there are as many albums that accomplish the above as there are people. I would contend that some albums are more thoughtful about the dazzling boundlessness and crushing limitations of music, imagination and memory than others. Lantlos’ Agape is one of these albums. With Agape, Lantlos weave both the joy of possibility and the inevitability of disappointment into the fabric of their music, creating an album that doesn’t attempt to achieve sublime immortality, so much as condense the idea of the transcendent into a practical and immensely enjoyable musical sensibility.

 

Agape is an example of the recent subgenre of ‘Post-Black Metal’. This style retains the blast beats and misanthropic screechings of standard Black Metal, but portions them tastefully alongside the slow thoughtful passages – the buoyant ascents of Post-Rock and the dreamy doe-eyed drift of Shoegaze. As an aesthetic, Black Metal requires a certain all-outness. It is consistently pushing to be the asymptote of heavy music – heavy metal pushed impossibly far – an overwhelming and often ridiculous stream of sonic excess and too-genuine hatred that stands on the shoulders of every metal subgenre that came before. Surely aware of what’s at stake in their genre’s culture wars, Lantlos nonetheless round off the edges, pull back from the abyss, shoehorn in long passages of ambient jazz. In short they risk angering the faithful. The results of this inverse heresy however, are well worth the hate and indifference of both corpse-painted pedants and heavy music agnostics.

 

Agape is not a terribly subtle album – sequenced into ‘Intrauterin’ and ‘Bliss’ are passages of ambient pseudo-jazz. These work as vehicles for the up and down profiles of the songs, but are hardly organic outgrowths of their surrounding passages. However, Lantlos present these loud-soft dynamics in synchronous concert with the inherent bittersweetness of youthful memory. ‘Intrauterin’ uses soft resonances and mellifluous vocals to paint a picture of the safest, warmest womb, only to shatter the reverie with the howling discordant chaos of birth, represented by Neige’s futile screams for his mother to ‘take back every cell / so I can remain in you’. This intertwined presentation of themes and musicality is reflected in almost every part of the music – weaknesses are organic – to err, musically, is to be human; strengths are self-evident – The best aural moments seem to form like clouds in the sunset. The galloping black metal roar left to deflate in “Bliss” marks a failure of consummation that seems both personal and musical. It’s as if the band became depressed and tailed off during recording. ‘Bloody Lips and Paper Skin’ is a triumphantly devastating revelation of mortality between young lovers – or as I like to imagine – a small child shocked by how horrifically frail and grotesque looking his mother has become in his eyes. “I see my face in your eyes / your shivering fingers / your bloody lips / in mine” shrieks our narrator, as incongruously warm, luminous shoegaze jangles and glows behind him.

 

‘You Feel Like Memories’ is likely the tipping point that will either pull listeners into Agape’s world or jolt them into the ranks of its detractors. The song hits both the theme and Herbst’s musical agenda right on the nose. It is literally a few minutes of very light guitar noodling and jazz drumming. If you aren’t convinced yet, you should turn the album off.

 

‘Eribo – I Collect The Stars’ seems poised to close the album with majestic, soaring post-rock – until Neige’s histrionic screaming crashes the party. The song, derailed, rumbles around until the vocals and instruments find understanding and find a nice groove – then the song ends. There is no grand crescendo, no indelible melody fading into forever, no sweet coda to hum after the music stops, just some Post-Rocky guitar chords, a bit of distorted bass then silence. It’s the final disappointment. Depending on your perspective it’s a either a brilliant, fitting move – a purposeful gesture of consistency with the themes of disappointment and the irrevocable loss of innocence – easy come easy go – or it’s an unforgivable fumble – a mediocre ending that accentuates the faults of what could have been a good album had the musicians just given the listener the black metal goods and not forced a bunch of mopey jazz and fey shoegaze into the mix.

 

Agape somehow feels like it could have somehow been a timeless, superlative album. It is as if Herbst and Neige somehow found the sanctuary of the gods, but instead of taking us there, returned and shared only grainy, out-of-focus photographs of the glory. However, like the Great American Novel, the perfect album is a conceit that seems to exist only in imagination. Although Black Metal offers a sense of stunning grandiosity that makes the most outsized notions seem possible, Lantlos tell us what we know, but don’t want to admit – that for every moment of supreme beauty, there is one of profound disappointment. The warm haze of memory can turn the most traumatic horror or mundane boredom into poignant meditation, but that precious glow of bittersweet sadness will only last for so long, and never for so long as we desire.

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