PICK OF THE WEEK: Alda create their masterpiece, with rousing folk, black metal on ‘Passage’

AldaPeople don’t really go around calling metal albums beautiful or breathtaking because, for some, that takes the piss out of it. Isn’t the idea to be ugly, violent, chaotic, and devoid of human compassion? We all know that, really, it is not always the case, and even when the heathens out there decry our desire to find metal that moves our souls, that doesn’t really stop us.

When tackling “Passage,” the wrenching new record by Alda, every cell in my body beams with energy. This third record by the Tacoma, Wash., based band is their most stunning achievement in a deep well of them. The band might not be known around the world quite yet, but they’ve developed a deep underground following on the strength of their first two opuses—their 2009 self-titled debut and 2011’s mystifying “:Tahoma:,” which ended up on a surprising number of year-end lists that year. But “Passage” is on another level still. It is lush and earth-rich quite often during these five tracks, but it also matches the intensity of the summer’s strongest lighting strikes, packing in melodic, outright emotional black metal into this collection. It’s a record that could grab your heart in an instant and take you along with them on whatever adventure they have in store.

Alda coverThis band is a four-headed beast with Michael Korchonnoff on drums and vocals; Stephanie Knittle on bass, cello, and backing vocals; and Timothy Brown and Jace Bruton on guitars. As time has gone on, and this band has grown, the music has gotten richer and more involved. There’s a hugeness in concept behind what they do, but what’s refreshing about “Passage” is the music maintains a raw feel. It’s not polished or overdone. You feel like you’re in the same room with the band, taking them in as they organically draw deep inside of them and blast out in front of you their every expression. It’s a fantastic listen you should make time to hear and absorb in full all alone, with nothing else to distract you.

The record opens with “The Clearcut,” one of my favorite songs of the entire year so far (it’s up there with FALSE’s “The Deluge”) and the best possible way to open this journey. The 14-minute track starts with clean guitars awakening and Korchonnoff (later joined in harmony by Knittle) leading the way, starting with, “Though our hearts will ring hollow in the silence of the clearcut,” as the tranquil passage teases bursts and eventually pays that off. When the power arrives, it’s with a full, bursting heart, as the singing erodes into wild growls and glorious cascading arrives that’s both heavy and incredibly emotional. The song turns back toward clean again, as Korchonnoff delivers some folk-like calls that’ll arrest you, and then it’s back into the eye of the storm, cutting through all of that chaos until the song finally ends in a bed of quiet strains. Absolutely amazing song. The title track follows, and it does a great job maintaining the intensity. Thunder calls as the band emerges from that and takes time to fully unfurl what they have. In fact, the first half of the song is purely instrumental, and riveting at that, as cymbals are bashed, guitars spill lava, and passion overflows before the first word is even uttered. The back end of the song is packed with massive leads, drum work that feels like Korchonnoff is going for broke, and eventually everything fading from where it came.

“Weathering” follows, with rustic acoustics and earnest vocals, with Korchonnoff noting, “We are parched land aching for a drink.” Wordless harmonizing adds more heart and passion to the song before the power emerges, and the band takes you on a slow-driving path. The vocals are gruff, as the melodies build around it, whipping you on a riveting journey that halts suddenly, as a clip from the movie “Jeremiah Johnson” plays, with the hammer-home line being, “Can’t cheat the mountain, pilgrim.” Acoustics come in from there, but as the track goes, it gets heavier and more spacious, with dual guitars exploding and the piece coming to a fiery end. “The Crooked Trail” is a lovely, serene instrumental track (aside from the wordless harmonies) that feels like it could be played around campfire or on a back porch in the driving rain. It’s a really nice cut that sets the stage for the finale “Animis.” The track starts with noises that could be dogs barking in the distance or might just be string strikes, and then the song explodes with life, pushing forward and destroying the path behind it. As most of the songs on this record are wont to do, we trade back and forth from calm to punishing, and later on, Korchonnoff’s rough growls turn to wild wails, like he’s standing in the middle of the wilderness begging for another voice to find him. The song rages with fire and epic grandeur, a final blast to remind you it is possible to feel abundantly alive listening to music—even black metal—closing the thing with the calm of chirping crickets and what sure is to be the pounding of your heart.

Alda have made a gigantic impact with “Passage,” a mid-way point contender for album of the year considerations and easily the best thing in their already impressive catalog. From the first time I heard this thing, I was captured. Every moment of this album is real, personal, human, of the Earth, all of those seemingly conflicting things combined. “Passage” is an album that may have made its mark in 2015, but its majesty and grace will live for calendar years well into the future. It’s that good.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alda/116289091792839

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/