Some bands insist on calling their shows rituals, and that’s not the most offensive thing in the world, but oftentimes that just means you’re putting on a show, and you’ve come up with a cute name for it. For other bands, that title makes sense, as seeing them in the live setting is more a spiritual experience than your average show. There also are artists that can make their records feel the same way, like you’ve gone through something profound and spiritually altering.
For the past 21 years, Belgian beasts Amenra have defied convention when it comes to their band and their creations. Members comes and go, all of which eventually get indoctrinated into the Church of Ra, meaning they’re always part of the body, and until now, their full-length creations have been labeled a “Mass,” ranging from I to VI. That last part changes with the release of “De Doorn,” which translated means “the thorn,” their first album that deviates away from a mass but never sacrifices any of the spiritual linking that solidified this band—vocalist Colin H. van Eeckhout, guitarists Mathieu Vandekeckhove and Lennart Bossu, bassist Tim De Gieter, drummer/percussionist Bjorn J. Lebon. They’re joined by backing vocalist Caro Tanghe (of the mighty Oathbreaker) on this five-track, nearly 47-minute album that centers on the themes of dialog and the passing of knowledge, which is given more intense treatment through the dual vocals and long passages of speaking, that often feel like a hush. Musically, the band still delivers heavy, doom-style storming, but there is more delicacy and atmosphere than usual, making this a true full-boded musical experience.
“Ogentroost” emerges from the mist and lets sounds waft over, numbing you as guitars drip in, and a long section of speaking pushes the plot. The track then opens and scorches, delivering heavy blows as Tanghe calls out in the background. The track keeps finding new ways to break open, the shrieks rain down hard, and a huge emotional deluge takes you prisoner, scraping your psyche before leaking into “De Dood In Bloei” where sounds envelope in an ambient cloud. The pressure soothes as Tanghe speaks through layers of time, almost like a prayer, capturing your imagination and treating your wounds. “De Evenmens” begins with shrieks striking and frantic pounding making your heart race before more dialog clouds your senses and helps you melt, language barrier be damned. Clean singing collects as the pressure begins to build, quaking the earth. The storm blasts with a fury, the band keeps piling on the emotional toll, and the track finally drowns out into the earth.
The final two tracks are the longest, beginning with “Het Gloren” that’s a healthy 11:31. It opens slowly as the doom collects, giving off a strange haze. As the playing starts to swell, the shrieks devastate, and fiery chaos licks the surface of the earth, with the vocals continually ripping hard. The guitars drip as the track begins to move more quietly, contemplating its next move, and then the ground swallows you whole, the playing floods with madness, and the whole things ravages, leaving nothing behind at all. “Voor Immer” is the closer, bleeding for 12:42 and starting in a heavy murk as guitars drip and quiet singing trickles. The bulk of this track is quite reflective, an exercise in patience as you await the highs and lows. There is even a gentler pace at times, letting you float along as the guitars drain. About 8 minutes in, the hammers drop and wild shrieks peel back flesh, leaving you exposed. The playing clobbers, the vocals mar psyches, and static mauling mixes into a cosmic haze, melting into stars.
Amenra exist in truly unique territory where their albums feel less like a collection of songs and more like a spiritual event where you cannot just drop in and drop out, because without the surrounding context, you can’t really assign proper meaning. These five songs are not attached to a “Mass,” yet they still feel just as ritualistic, just as emotionally gripping as they work their way through each layer of the puzzle. It’s great to see Amenra move up in the world with their alliance with Relapse, and hopefully more eyes and ears are open and welcome to the Church of Ra, a structure where your pain and emotional baggage is welcome as you grow into a better self.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/churchofra
To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/b/amenra
For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords/