Belgian maulers Amenra strike crushing, devastating blows on emotional ‘Mass V’

Bulldozers and wrecking balls are very metal pieces of machinery both literally and figuratively. Yes, these great hulks of construction/deconstruction are, in fact, primarily made of metal, but they also are great reference points when stumbling across a band that’s hellbent on obliteration. You hear the music and you imagine these things knocking down great structures via repeated pummeling and then hauling the refuse into huge trucks to be dumped into a pile. Very metal, indeed.

Every time I hear Belgian sludge doom warriors Amenra, I think of these things. Their music is pure demolition, a great force of nature that seemingly can topple skyscrapers and cities if given enough time. Their music is heavy and unforgiving no matter the volume, but played loudly, the effects are even greater and more tangible. This is a mighty, mighty band, and it makes all the sense in the world that they have landed at Neurot Recordings, home of and founded by members of Neurosis.

Amenra’s roots can be traced back about a decade, and in that time, they’ve put out a nice amount of material for their followers. They now have four full-length albums, a bunch of EPs and splits, a compilation, and a live album, so they certainly haven’t been terribly quiet. That said, their excellent new “Mass V” is their first long player since 2008’s “Mass IIII,” released by Hypertension, and it comes at a perfect time, when days are getting colder and darker, and crazy people think the world is going to end in a month.

The bulk of Amenra remain intact from the last record, with guitarists Lennart Bossu and Mathieu Vandekerckhove, drummer Bjorn J. Lebon, vocalist Colin H. Van Eeckhout, and new bassist Levy Seynaeve rounding out the lineup. Actually, let me take a moment to address Van Eeckhout’s vocals, and I know this isn’t some new observation or anything. That dude can shriek. He sounds like he’s in legitimate trauma on this record, be that emotional, physical, or a combination of the two. For all the bands out there who have singers that really aren’t all the integral to the greater good, that isn’t the case with Van Eeckhout. His presence is vital and weighty.

“Mass V” consists of just four tracks, but they clock in at more than 40 minutes combined. So yes, you’re in for epics, but they’re damn good compositions that demand your attention, so you’ll be compelled to devote time. Also, while they spend a decent amount of time bludgeoning, Amenra know to shade their corners and add texture and melody to the mix so it just isn’t a marathon drubbing. It’s a damn listenable album that’ll leave you exhausted and heaving when it’s over.

“Boden” kicks off the record inauspiciously, as you can barely hear anything for the first minute or so as they build an atmosphere. Then the whole thing blows up, with muddy, calculated blows tossed, and Van Eeckhout’s maniacal howls piercing the surface. The song ebbs and flows, of course, and at one calmer point, lines such as, “I am reason, I am fear,” are spoken as the surroundings start to bubble again. Then it whips back into a frenzy and steamrolls toward the finish. “Dearborn and Buried” reminds the most of Neurosis, achieving a slowly delivered shock to the system, with the vocals again disrupting any sense of permanent calm. This is a really great song, one of the best they’ve done in a while.

The 13-minute “A Mon Ame” kicks off the second half of the album with the same mechanical, plodding pace as the record opener. It’s all designed to set the stage, get you emotionally invested and interested so that when they hit the gas, you’re ready but still heavily affected. Much of the song hangs in the air and drizzles around you, with the showers getting heavier and bulkier as the track progresses. The wild shrieks are there, as is the menacing intent, and the finish goes all out, with panicked wails and fiery damage that inflict quite the sentence of judgment. Closer “Nowena I 9.10” has a curveball opening, with the band damn near in Americana folk mode and sounding like a demonic version of My Morning Jacket. But alas, it’s a red herring, as the piece explodes, guitars swirl and enrapture, the vocals penetrate, and a tidal wave of cathartic doom whisks you away.

Amenra’s always had destruction at heart, even if their lyrical content doesn’t always suggest they want to see things burn. That’s fine, because sometimes that deconstruction is of the psychological variety and doesn’t require the aforementioned bulldozers and wrecking balls. But Amenra make you feel like they see their instruments and philosophies in the same way as those machines, and they’re willing to blast whatever’s in front of them in order to get to the other side to continue their journey. They haven’t let us down yet, and there’s no need to worry they’ll do that any time soon.

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