Post-black. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more divisive term in the metal underground over the last few years. While it was pioneered as far back as 2005 by Alcest, it came to the forefront of metal with Deafheaven’s critically revered darling Sunbather. In the post-Deafheaven world (we’re so far post everything, guys) post-black bands are commonplace, but few have tried to combine their shoegazing tendencies with a little controversy befitting black metal’s second wave. Enter Numenorean.
Upon visiting their Facebook page or Bandcamp, you will be greeted by the striking cover to their debut, Home. Adorning it is the body of 2 year old Kristen MacDonald, brutally murdered by her father with a knife and an icepick. It took me a minute to full realize what I was looking at when I first saw it, perhaps because I thought an image of a slain child was too taboo even for a genre that routinely features death and dismemberment on its album covers. The band has stated that the album cover is meant to represent the death of innocence and that art should not be something that is easily digestible. How you or I feel about this selection of cover is for another piece entirely, but the art appears to be a central part of the theme and sets a very somber tone for the music held within.
For the most part the music holds up its end of the bargain. The album opens with the genre’s trademark beautiful and ethereal clean guitars before soaring into a joyless storm of tremolo picking, drowning in the pained howls of the track (provided by an astounding 4 of 5 band members). The song bobs and weaves like Ali in his prime, swelling and bursting into fits of agonized rage before subsiding and washing over you in reverb drenched solemnity. This back and forth is a constant on the album and more or less a necessity given that that only track under 7 minutes is the instrumental breather “Shoreless” placed dead center on the album. These extended track lengths don’t prove to be much of an issue though as the album still runs a relatively brisk 43 minutes and the songs change things up enough that they never feel like an endless parade of repetitious passages.
The theme of the loss of innocence plays a major role with every song acting as a different phase of life. With a tracklisting of “Home,” “Thirst,” “Shoreless,” “Devour,” and “Laid Down” it’s pretty easy to get a sense of which phase each is and the amount of despair held within. Each song plays to its theme as well, with towering closer “Laid Down” standing out above the rest. It offers a sense of fury, sorrow, and long awaited relief once it’s all said and done that is virtually unparalleled on the rest of the album. It’s a song truly befitting of the concept of being laid to rest and finally coming home (Hey, that’s the album title!).
The comparisons to Deafheaven are an inevitability. They are, after all, the most visible post black band and were the ones that launched it into the public consciousness. Regardless of how you feel about them, they are the measuring stick by which all other post-black bands will be tested, and Numenorean do a pretty good job stacking up. They don’t go to the extreme on the prettier, shoegazier moments and instead opt for a more restrained approach and do the same by not offering the same overly upbeat melodies that Deafheaven are known for. This is a band that leans a little closer to the black metal side than the post metal side, in both sound and aesthetic, and it works more often than it doesn’t. Home is a very solid debut from this Calagary quintet. If you find yourself opposed to anything with the tag “blackgaze” then this won’t be the record that brings you on board, but if you can get down with sparkly guitars and major key melody then this is an album to hear and a band to watch.