(Black Market Metal Label, 2018)
#FOR FANS OF: Black Metal, Dissection
Though the lineup featuring session guitarists, an aggressive drummer, and orchestral bookends may make Bane seem like a full-time group on paper, this album and the band's direction is very much dictated by Brainslav Panić, a twenty-eight year old musician from Serbia with a great grasp of the varying finishes of metal that may color an album cover and its various reminiscences. Variety plays out across the board from the more traditional sound of a song like “Reign in Chaos”, which takes a basic and accessible approach bordering on a familiar pop-punkish - think a slower and more accentuated aesthetic to Atreyu's “Ex's and Oh's” - verse in its lead riff, to embracing a sharp and purely evil sound in “Wretched Feast” and “Into Oblivion”. Where these latter two tracks hit the mark, aided by the input of guitarists Giulio Moschini from Hour of Penance and Amduscias from Temple of Baal, Bane's death metal side comes through as a more genuine and enjoyable approach than its lighter and theatrical black metal sound that seems more than a little lost in this wilder neck of the woods.
Employing the classic two-throated mask with high screams and low growls combining to form a mid-ranged hum, the onrushes of hatred in the vocals show themselves as far less drastic than Deicide or imperial as Behemoth, a drama that fails to capture anguish or even hint at the “chaos and confusion” so readily described in the lyrics. Rather, these dulcet invocations of a dark almighty show a larger bottleneck in Bane's formula that becomes as flat as a warm root beer sitting open in a cupholder during the third hour of a summer's road trip.
Fantastic at sinking hooks into an audience early on in each song, Brainslav seems to find trouble elaborating through these tracks with more than a cursory glance at evolution throughout each structure as opposed to eloping with the first bit of inspiration that comes to mind and marrying it to the flow of a three minute exploration of its curves. This makes for clear and obvious distinctions through the album between the traditional tones riffing through “Beneath the Black Earth” and “Reign in Chaos” compared to the shrill imperial intensity of “The Calling of the Eleven Angels” or the melodeath money track “Bringer of Pandimensional Disorder”. With Trivium intersecting with Dark Fortress in the latter, Behemoth opening the album, or NWOBHM taking the reigns to a trot, Bane is not so much building a bridge between death and black metal, but very clearly defining these distinctions without chaining all of these well-explored lands into a domain of Brainslav's chaos to round out these songs in anything more a singular series. This shoring up of borders by territory without unifying each country under a central system results in many disparate adventures but fails to draw together a cohesive direction or any experimental distractions from these one-dimensional songs espousing simply “chaos and confusion” for the “dark ones” with about as much personality and nuance as an interstellar Space Marine shouting “Blood for the Blood God” at every onslaught of orcs.
In spite of its varied song openings, Bane becomes bland as it overtly invokes its 'Esoteric Formulae' by bringing melodic riffs and a standard verse-chorus style buffeted by double bass and languishing with little variation. From this construction comes a structure bearing some striking similarities to Dark Fortress, Dimmu Borgir, and bits of later Nightside Glance, where melody supplants itself as the appealing focus of a band more apt to bathe in moonlight rather than ensconce itself in a cave as percussion blasts religion and tillable land away with a constant creep of impenetrable drumroll artillery. Still, shrillness makes little appearance. Bane's guitars have their tear but, with such wispy and airy delivery, fill the register with a hollow and localized Potemkin bustle that barely populates its soundscape enough to cause cavalcades when engulfed in flame. The side streets are empty, there is little more than the surface to observe, and it becomes a show of strength without the economy of ideas to back up such a faithful front.
Textural issues also plague this album's production. Too many times the snare snaps disappear behind the bassy mix, simply keeping time without finding places to accentuate that animosity so ready to rile an audience. Honza Kapák's drumming sparsely brings the blasting appeal that should show off the speed of the snare, erupting only at title moments throughout each song. This becomes a somewhat disappointing sound that echoes this absence of agency that accentuates the approach of bass behind melody but denies the rapidity and atonality of percussion so purposeful and unforgiving in the standard second wave style of black metal. A hollow hallow, as diametrically opposed to the desire of a band that seeks a professional mix, makes the sound of the underground and something as overproduced as the guitars in this album ruins the overall mix as much as each song's singular approach bottlenecks the release.
'Esoteric Formulae' leaves me feeling blocked by the Berlin Wall, observing through binoculars the failures of an entirely separate society, culture, and system on the other side with which there is no doubt that an even reconciliation will never occur. Constant descriptions of chaos come from an album so hell-bent on sticking to a single-minded prescribed plan that it gives off a feeling of many missing parts in this segregated series of songs, all in need of elaboration and fresh movements to stitch together a memory of this album. But each movement is only able to stick to its system lest they be cut from this path for the corruption it could bring to the integrity of a band that refuses to branch out with more expressive, unique, or devious deviations. The only collapse may come from within to bring about a new day as much as others may naysay such a stalwart and conclusive mindset, and the strength of this barricade ensures the impasse between both the mindsets of musician and its audience.
While Brainslav has his abilities and surely shows them while creating an album ready to reproduce in a live setting, it seems this leader is too willing to marry each idea to a single song without bringing in the plural partners necessary to create harems of harmony in these tracks, those that ensure the modernity and brilliance in blackened death metal that take a band from singularly seeing songs in a straight path to delicately balancing between fluid as well as fluctuation, showing the strength of each element in order to flourish and play with the improvisation that heavy metal is based in.
This is the main issue in 'Esoteric Formulae'. Here is an album rife with potential and proper production, but so brittle in substance and tightly laced that it would flow more elaborately if each song had its repetitive songwriting tropes boiled off and all of these great moments were incorporated into a bite sized snack EP rather than saddled with upholding a full-length meal so burdened by gristle that the first moments of each track are enough to understand the labor of the next three minutes of vicious chewing. Where are the solos in this album? Where are the drastic changes in pace, the nuanced steps that uplift these melodies, and drumming fills that move a song out of its comfortable one-riff verse-chorus cycle? Harmonies gorgeously come through in abundance with flying rejoinders to slice through the helix of guitars, but through the restrained drumming and songwriting that holds together “Beneath the Black Earth”, this is the only place where a solo attempts to make an appearance. Where it could have flown for a time, the segment's creativity is quashed by the flow of harmony rather than allowed a moment of unique expression and individuality. Another guitarist could have taken that place and made it his own. Instead Brainslav is showing slavish adherence to his own 'Esoteric Formulae' and quashing any agency, only allowing momentary space for friends where he would be better off enlisting longstanding allies for a fuller undertaking. Maybe I didn't get the memo, but I expect that somewhere in a bit of “chaos and confusion” there would result in a bit more scattering of multitudes than having each element in this wide berth of musicians and instruments wheel lockstep at every turn like an elite command crushing colonial contingents.
What makes a sharp difference between so many one-man bands against so many full groups is that the one-man situation tends to end up in a bottleneck. Here it shows that even in attempting variety, the bottleneck is in the songwriting department where Brainslav sticks against all odds to his verse-chorus formula, sparse on bridges and even sparser on deviations, while his session musicians show plenty of personality among the languishing and overly-thought flow of this album. Brainslav indulges his melodies well, I don't have to have heard all of his music to understand that as a major strength, but he needs fresh impulses to conduct his flows in order to generate the electricity necessary to power an audience to devotion.
Where Bane does hit the mark is in its unexpected and thankfully expansive places. “Burning the Remains” brings the classic second wave of black metal sound across well with a few death metal guitar crunches to drive the point home, finally bridging a bit of a gap between death and black styles, the vocals even inhaling the scent of a decomposing raven in order to accentuate the cracking knuckles of cold in the guitars, and finding brutality in its melodic melancholy. Such an astute show of force in this song dispels any thought that Bane simply didn't know what sound would make the day, but consciously attempted avoiding it for as long as possible in search of a streamline to keep each song in place. The by-the-numbers sounds in the lighter songs throughout the album make for potent and enjoyable listens totally out of this expected scope as “Burning the Remains” caps a run that made “Wretched Feast” and “Into Oblivion” stand so brutally far out.
The money track, “Bringer of Pandimensional Disorder” has an astounding lead riff. Brutalized by blast beating and harmonized to the hilt, this song cannot help but bring the most memorable moments in the album while so elegantly gliding towards the all-too-forgettable chorus that keeps repeating the title. Great at arranging his music but in need of fresher ideas, this song brings hope that Bane will continue to bring out the best in a riff even in spite of its lacking direction as a piece like this, even on its best footing, ends up in the hands of too many surface sounds rather than digging deeper below a hatred that even Bullet for my Valentine harmonizes about but never really grasps.
Finally getting downright crunchy in achievement of what had been lacking throughout the previous twenty-eight minutes, “Acosmic Forces of the Nightside” allows the guitars to flow from gritty riffing moments into melodies through a beautiful interplay, flirting with the arena style of NWOBHM, and showing that Brainslav can concoct an expansive sound with a bit of edge to it. There is hope on the horizon that Bane can be coaxed into this more varied, improvisational, and complex creativity rather than simply sitting on a single sound as though it will get up and bite the band's backside. If the rest of the album had this sort of approach, I would be much more receptive to 'Esoteric Formulae' due to its progressive propensities rather than relentless restrictions. Rather, things are the other way around and Bane is far too enamored with sticking to 'Formulae' without too many sprinklings of the 'Esoteric', ending up playing host to too many insipid bottlenecked moments that fail to make a memorable impact, sightseeing in the realm of accessibility without much exploration even there, in spite of its incessant invocations of dark deities.
Fomulaic in substance and barely esoteric in aesthetic, Bane seems to be living far too in kind with one of its homonyms. Bane finds its esoteric aesthetic hampered by too many power metal moments dulling its blade and making more theater out of its sacrificial show than conjuring the forthright notions of the reclusive ritual for which black metal is better known. Even in its darkest hour, 'Esoteric Formulae' is far too accustomed to the rays of the Sun, burning off its thin atmosphere as well as its poisonous potency. Luckily, there are no egregious moments of cringe on this album but it also seems like that sort of zealous venture out on a limb wouldn't have ever entered the members' minds going into the album either. Brainslav could do well to find ways to express himself with more variety between each hook and chorus so as to avoid pigeonholing each track into a single tone and direction. Though the album employs variety in its approaches, it doesn't take them much farther than these basic beginnings, which comes across as though a flat trajectory results from each song's blast off and ends up without atmosphere or compelling reasons to stick around after the first thrust of melodies is exhausted. Surely there is more on the cutting room floor than made it into this release because this album can't help but feel like it is missing many pieces.