Formed back in 1999, Amenra has been one of the most prolific bands in the European post-metal scene. With their sound influenced heavily by the sludge, doom and hardcore sonic territories, they have released a continuous piece of work in their Mass albums, while their initiation of the Church of Ra project (check their website and try to unlock its secrets,) has seen them collaborating with other great Belgian acts, including Oathbreaker and The Black Heart Rebellion.
A while back, Amenra experimented with an acoustic setting rather than their usual soundscape-constructing, heavy guitar-based approach. The Afterlife EP showed this side of the band, introducing a place in which their dark tone was retained, and yet their vision was expanded. They carried on exploring this acoustic side, revisiting this approach in live performances. It is the sum of these performances the Alive live acoustic album encompasses.
The approach is fairly similar to the process that Neurosis‘ members, Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, follow with their solo releases. Managing to create a stripped-down version of the main band, the material contained in Alive showcases the bare bones of Amenra. The album features new material – several unreleased covers and an unreleased original, “The Longest Night” – with the rest of the tracks originating from a few different releases of Amenra, including the Afterlife EP, their collaboration with Sofie Verdoodt and their split with Madensuyu. Guesting on the album are Amenra’s former bass player, Maarten Kinet, as well as Femke de Beleyr on violin and backing vocals.
Label: Consouling Sounds
The post-metal approach is translated perfectly in this acoustic setting, as the structures of the tracks are retained almost intact. The build-up of “Dying of the Light” still carries the fury of a the genre, as does the delivery of “Wear My Crown,” retaining a cold detachment not dissimilar to Tool. And speaking of Tool, Amenra even include a great cover of “Parabol,” traveling deeper into the track and bringing forth an underlying ritualistic tonality, while “The Longest Night” carries the more pessimistic quality of post-rock. On the other hand, more aggressive moments include the Tool/Neurosis hybrid approach in “Aorte,” and the more extravagant sound in “Razoreater,” with its unnerving, menacing quality.
Similarly, Amenra is also able to hold on to the dark vibe of their music. That has probably even been enhanced in Alive, mainly due to the instrumentation, which transmits a more laid-back and minimal approach, and their live setting, which somehow gives a spacious characteristic to the album. From that point on, it is just a trip through the dark melodies of “Dying of the Light,” the atmospheric awakenings of “Wear My Crown” and the minimalism of “To Go On and Live With Out.” The vocal delivery aids in this construction, with the main vocals enhancing the bleak tone, while the narrating parts in “Buiten Datum” mesmerize you along the repetitive patterns. It is hard to listen to this album and not detect a dark folk aura, an aspect increased with the inclusion of Zjef Vanuytsel‘s (Belgian folk/kleinkunst musician) “Het Dorp.”
The only downside that I find in the album is that it does not contain new material from the band, even though the cover tracks are very nice additions. Alive acts as a grace note in the Amenra discography, and even though it is a nice addition, I am looking forward to their next full-length. It has actually been some time since Mass V, but they kept us going with a number of splits and collaborations in the meantime.