By all accounts, 2016 has been a fantastic year for EPs. Perhaps this has been a function of great bands maintaining the steam off killer full-lengths dropped in previous years? Perhaps bands are beginning to function differently in a post-digital streaming world, when more frequent releases of less bloated content become more desirable to keep listeners on the hook? Whatever the reason, you’ll hear no complaints from me. Although I appreciate a dynamic LP as much as anyone, a trimmed, sharp EP can be just as lethal in the right hands. Today we’re celebrating some of the best EPs released this year. Show me what you’ve got!
I could write at length about the momentous EPs from bands like Uruk, Krallice, Ceremented, VRTRA, Dakhma, Infernarium, Spirit Adrift, Gorguts, Replicant, Pyrrhon, Bereave, God Root, Skeletonwitch, and countless others I’m surely forgetting. However, today I’d like to focus on a new EP, the debut effort from Denmark’s Eggþér. The band’s first official release, Volume Null, twists black metal, crust, and psychedelic doom in a surprisingly deft manner to produce a high-fidelity, agile EP that works exceptionally well in the shorter format.
Volume Null consists of three ardent tracks that careen violently -but never chaotically- between doomy trudges and full-tilt d-beats, occasionally taking the time to stomp on listeners’ throats with righteous indignation and infectious headbangability. Sparse are the vocals, used only for minor accents against the bass drum (as in closer “Nadir”), and surprisingly warm and open is the production job. it’s a bit disorienting at first to hear such crisp and clear blasts and tremolo chords, but when the band takes a sharp left into a plaintive clean guitar passage or an orchestrated accoutrement, the band’s intentions become a bit clearer.
Admittedly, it doesn’t all work perfectly. Opening track “Void,” through resplendent in its breathy atmosphere, drags a bit longer than you’d hope for an EP. Some of the mood shifts and tonal changes, veering from icy vehemence to contemplative rest, can also stymy the flow and pace of the record. As a proof of concept, though, Volume Null delivers in spades. Fans of progressive, artful music will have more than enough to enjoy in a run-time just barely cresting 20 minutes, and those with a thirst for the unique will undoubtedly be piqued enough to explore any future material from the band.
Volume Null is by no means a perfect release, but it is perfect in demonstrating one of the two ways in which EPs can help bands retain relevance in a short attention span and radio single driven music economy. EPs can either fill the niche of quintessential material at a cheaper cost, loosening the shackles of overstuffed tracks in favor of showcasing everything the band does well in a record you can spin fully in a single commute, or they can present a melange of ideas and capabilities that will hook the listener and persuade them to stick around for the long haul. Volume Null is an excellent demonstration of the latter function, and I can imagine most of you who enjoy things on the well-produced, progressive side will find little here to trifle over.
As we enter the final third of 2016, I fully expect just as many quality EPs as full-lengths to drop. In fact, we may be witnessing a shift in the dynamics of the industry. If the subscription-based services of Bandcamp are any indication, more frequent and shorter releases are here to stay.