Syndrome of the Fallen (Bane and Illusion / Syrigx Split CD)
Always a style of alliances and traditions, few things in the genre of black metal have been as important to the scene (especially in its early days) as that of the split album. When the second wave erupted like an outbreak of bubonic plague in early 1990's Scandinavia, band after band found themselves isolated by a strict, Christian, and overall conservative society opposed to the rebellion their new movement offered. Low on cash and surrounded on all sides by opposition, many acts banded together on split EPs to further the overall message ( i.e. EVIL) of black metal and get it out there for more to hear. Now spread throughout the majority of the world, BM is a global phenomenon, that primitive nuisance of instinct, chaos, and bestial urges. Though the original conditions driving on bands like Enslaved, Satyricon, Mayhem, Burzum, and Emperor may no longer remain, the split album remains popular in black metal culture and is a frequent chance for various bands in said style of heavy metal to share techniques with each other.
Such comradery brings to my doorstep a split between Finland's Bane and Illusion and Romania's Syrigx. Both are one-man, entirely self-produced acts, and both are also products of a post-Cold War culture in which Eastern and Western Europe have much to discuss with each other. It is this latter idea that separates the two; when last we saw Bane and Illusion in the pages of this column, the man was attempting to fuse the ambient militarism of post-Second Wave black metal to the punkish, raw sounds it first held. Syrigx, on the other hand, takes things in a completely opposite direction, the music on his side of the EP being naught but harsh, blackened noise, with little emphasis on either song structure or speed. In summary, this disc can easily be seen as a continuation of the second wave's Western European roots and the subsequent Eastern European evolution very far from it (please see Drudkh, Kawir, and Obtest for some more notable examples). With all this in mind, I ask you: which way is better?
The answer is easily the portion of the split put forth by Bane and Illusion. In fact, I'd wager that this section is far superior in all regards to that of Syrigx. Much like on the self-titled EP he first put out earlier this year, Bane and Illusion once more treads a fine line between the ambient and the blasting styles of black metal. With the militant pulse of later Burzum, the abrasive noise of Beherit, and the punk-ish filth of Mayhem, Bane and Illusion has crafted an entertaining series of three tracks. The first, "Black Metal Syndrome," is a bit on the weaker side due to its focus on constantly blasting, inhuman, and hollow drum tracks and the fact the guitars sound a bit light. Despite lacking a bit in the depth department, the song still maintains ambient guitar washes that fester like acid in a couldron while a mechanical rhythm section lacerates you at the same time. Short, decent, and to-the-point, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the other songs are much better. ""To Remain Fearless of Mortality" is a rough cut likely to appear on the next Bane and Illusion disc (due in early 2007) and is easily on par with earlier work. The drum loops are engineered here to sound more natural, and the majority of the song is built around an ebony-sheened riff that expands and swells like a blood-filled blister. Fans of Burzum will especially delight in this, what with the deliberately doomed approach to guitar riffing and tone meshing very well with the marching percussion to form a dystopian, tyrannical atmosphere worthy. Oppressive and choking, "Fearless" works as it is consistent in smothering listeners with tons of sinister meance. "Strike with Iron Fists" is another great song, with Bane and Illusion distorting drum patterns in all manner of fairly organic and entertaining tempos. Slicing, lithe, and cold, the song is not unlike a broadshord swiping through your neck. Kudos are especially necessary as at this stage just about anyone thinks they can make an entertaining song with some private music software, studio equipment in the basement, and a tuned instruments; not so! With the rise of "bedroom BM" being an easily mockable affair (and with good reason) it is refreshing to see a lone musician like Bane and Illusion working very hard to establish unique, filling, and realisitic song structures with whatever tools he has. His side of the split is far from perfect, but I have a feeling that these songs aren't totally finished yet and I am awaiting the next EP with bated breath.
I wish I could say the same about Romania's Syrigx. In all honesty, I wish I could say anything nice at all. To be entirely forthcoming, this previously released EP (entitled Cassandra) is a nightmare of terrible production, poor song-structure, laughable atmosphere, and much worse. In the crowded world of BM most bands can get by if they possess at least one sound trait that is the opposite of the above negatives, but Syrigx unfortunately has no redeeming qualities that I can see. The eight minutes or so of music that finishes the split is so awful I have perhaps overanalyzed it and I find myself making people listen to it to see if they can find something, nay, anything, they like. Two weeks and some six or seven black metalheads later, I have come up with nothing of quality about this material. I am seriously trying not to be harsh, it is just that bad. The 'intro' that is "Cassandra" is a fine example of what is wrong with these recordings. As the longest song on the Syrigx portion, the droning, percussionless, and outright boring riff that blandly oozes out of your speakers will do little to impress. At about the two-and-a-half minute mark, the song 'changes' with what sounds like an atrocious palm-mute f**kup, but by God I am not even sure what I am hearing. The mix is seriously that low and shallow, rendering any atmosphere that this might have had despite its simplicity (see early Xasthur perhaps) impotent. As the song at last ends, I exhale a sigh of relief every time, only to yell in anger as it starts anew as the intro to "A Night at Apollo's Temple." "Temple" is another minute-and-a-half of the above nonsense, this time with virtually inaudible howls. From what I can hear, the vocals are definitely not something to write home about. "The Spit in the Mouth (The Curse)" starts with what sounds like muffled flatulence and stinks about as bad. Skeletal, piss-poor riffs haphazardly attempt to shred while vocals kind of hang there pointlessly. Yuck. The whole mess ends with "Troy/Love & Death," a finish so anticlimatic a person can be forgiven for wondering if they even started listening to music in the first place. When you see a person writing their thoughts out like this, chances are that one would do well to avoid the object of description like a Leper....long story short, if you dig skin infections or other unsightly annoyances, by all means shell out cash for this EP on its own. At least if you go for the split, the Bane and Illusion material is strong enough to justify it.
Though united by style, Syrigx could not be any more different that Bane and Illusion. The latter is a dedicated, hard-working, and talented musician who spends legitimate time and effort crafting music that will appeal to people due to its actual structure, subtle melody, and sense of malice generated through crafty manipulation of studio production. In opposition to this is Syrigx, who in my opinion need to practice much more seriously before releasing recorded music again. A more focused studio environment might help, as I'm guessing better production might have made these sound at least marginally better. Regardless, I can't in honest speaking encourage anyone to look into this for anything save Bane and Illusion. I'd recommend downloading things for yourself and forming a personal opinion.
The Syndrome of the Fallen Split Album
Bane and Illusion
1. Black Metal Syndrome
2. To Remain Fearless of Mortality
3. Strike with Iron Fists
final rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
check 'em out at www.myspace.com/baneandillusion
Syrigx (also released separately as The Cassandra EP)
2. A Night at Apollo's Temple
3. The Spit in the Mouth (The Curse)
4. Troy/Love & Death
final rating: 0 out of 5 stars.
check 'em out (if you dare!) at www.myspace.com/syrigx
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