Menace Ruine paint horrifying terrain on nightmarish new album ‘Alight in Ashes’

Every now and again, we get to a release that makes us wonder, “What is metal?” Everyone has an idea of what it is, or at least what it should be, and it’s hard to argue that anyone is wrong or right. What does it boil down to in the end? A particular sound? A sonic approach? A philosophy? A combination of everything? It makes for quite a debate, and that often gets into subgenres, and what things should be called.

I’ve always held a pretty open understanding of music I include under the metal banner. To me, that doesn’t always mean it is purely defined as heavy metal music, but that it pertains to it. It relates to it. It can appeal to a metal audience. It has the right tenets that it can be in discussion on a metal site and not be out of place. I think a band like Worm Ouroboros is one that pushes the boundaries of metal. Same goes for Mount Eerie, a largely folk-based project that is allowed to travel into black metal and doom drone terrain. But is that explicitly metal? Probably not. A few weeks ago, we looked at the new Assembly of Light, a record that’s decidedly not metal in tone for the bulk of its running time but definitely deserves to be dissected. It also was one of our most highly read pieces in August.

This brings us to Menace Ruine, yet another genre-bending outfit that, yeah, can stand under the metal umbrella. But if some bro is all into riffs and shit and wants to know if he’ll dig the Menace Ruine album, you may have a problem. But do their compositions evoke dread, terror, uncomfortable darkness, and daring expression? Totally. They’re scarier than most of your black metal bands these days, and if you take on their new, fourth record “Alight in Ashes” in a dark room on a stormy night, you might be fumbling for a nightlight. You will see shadows lurking in your hallways, ghosts painted on your walls. But you’re not met with shrieks and metallic fire-storming or blasphemous, murderous lyrics. Their aura itself is unsettling and bizarre, and they don’t need the put-on chicanery to strike a bloody path right through you. It’s a gift.

It should come as no surprise that Profound Lore (CD version) and Sige (vinyl) are putting out this Montreal duo’s new effort, as both labels have a penchant for daring, stimulating acts that sound like no one else. The team of Genevieve and S. de la Moth combine to create a weird, industrial-tinged, black metal-aware, doom-bringing, neo-folk, often bizarre pocket of clouds that may take some getting used to but certainly should keep you stimulated from front to back. Genevieve’s vocals are soaring, slightly nasal, penetrating, and haunting, as they float over their songs, trickling into the works’ pores and letting her essence prevail. There are no screams and growls anymore (that pretty much dissipated after debut “Cult of Ruins”), but what she does should be more than enough to jar you into awarded Menace Ruine your undivided attention.

“Set Water to Flame” opens the collection with trippy, dark melodies, an off-kilter feel, and gorgeous drone, something that’s sort of a hallmark of this record and Menace Ruine as a whole. If you’re one annoyed or unmoved by drone, be warned that you might not warm up to this record right away. Or at all. What’s weird, though, is my wife is heavily dismayed by drone, yet she embraced this record right away. The vocals are haunting, following a woodsy folk style, with Genevieve vowing, “Nothing will bring me back here,” as the track fades into haze. Two bands that popped into my mind were WOLD and Portal. No, the music doesn’t resemble their versions of chaos, but there are those strains here and there that poke at those things. “Salamandra,” a track floated to Internet sites in advance of the album, is the shortest on here, but it’s still quite a puzzle. Organs buzz, melodies intertwine and rumble, and Genevieve waves a tale like she’s trying to guide you into a candy-striped hole to hell. “Burnt Offerings” simmers in battered church pipe majesty, as the thing glows like an ember at the bottom of a charred building. It’s quasi-spiritual in nature, and it’s wholly moving throughout.

“Arsenikon (Faded in Discord)” is moody and cloudy, and it matches perfectly the weather from yesterday: thick atmosphere, gentle fog, light rain, total cloud envelopment. In fact, this music is perfectly structured for that kind of day, one where you’d be inclined to pull out an old Cure or Dead Can Dance album. “Disease of Fear” opens with a familiar-sounding horror house melody, then everything stretches out and bleeds over more than 12 minutes of space. The noise hangs, bubbles of poison emerge, and beams of light shoot through here and there. Closer “Cup of Oblivion” is like a sooty black mass at the start, processional and liturgical, and the noise again resembles organs and haunted dreams. Things flicker, melodies slip in and out, vocals erupt and fade, the song stops and starts up again. It’s completely perplexing and utterly exhilarating. You’ll be tired when this record over. I am every time, but I think that just means it drained me of all of my physical and mental energy.

Are Menace Ruine metal? I’d say they are. They may not conjure classic images of spikes, chains, dual guitars, and madness, but they’re scarier than all of those things combined. This is a psychological, dream-state journey, the backing track to an out-of-body experience gone wrong. They may not look or sound the part of what’s typically in our minds, but trust me, they’re heavy as fuck.

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