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Peccatum - Lost in Reverie

Peccatum -  CD Review
Lost in Reverie

CD Info
Label: The End Records
7 Tracks
Language: English

Peccatum’s attempt at creating genre-defying experimental music has proven fertile enough to last through an EP and three full length albums, Lost in Reverie being the latest installment. Actually this is the first of their albums to find its way to my CD player, but if this one is any indication, then I’ll say Peccatum is one of the most unusual bands around these days -- “unusual” perhaps being an understatement. You have to admire them for their perseverance in following their unique artistic goals, knowing that this music will probably never, ever, EVER become popular in any significant way. That’s a shame, since there is much here that is worthy, even if some of it is a bit hard to swallow.

The project is spearheaded by Ihsahn of Emperor fame, joined by his wife Ihriel and her brother Lord PZ (strange names to go along with strange music, I guess). The basic nature of the music is hard to label, although you might simply call it experimental or avante-garde metal. That hardly captures it though, since the variety of it really goes beyond metal. The primary characteristic is a soft/loud dynamic, set inside unconventional song structures. Dreamy, cosmic atmospheres are juxtaposed with harsh, pounding black metal. Beautiful moments of soothing orchestration contrast with cold, clanking industrial noises. Gorgeous piano melodies are interchanged with unmelodic outbursts of violent sound. To add even more to the mix, electronic effects are blended in liberally, and there’s even a hint of jazz influence here and there. Much like the music, there is also a variety and contrast in the vocals. Ihriel graces us with her soft ethereal voice which I find to be one of the highlights here. Ihsahn’s singing ranges from a very pleasant clean style to an extreme metal growling/screeching.

The main problem in attempting this kind of style is making all the diverse elements fit together in a natural way. It’s a difficult task, and unfortunately one that doesn’t quite succeed, at least not in every song. There is some beautiful music here, surely, but the harsher pieces feel like just that -- pieces -- that don’t fit in with the rest of the puzzle. It’s something like the effect you’d get if you were watching VH1 play some mellow light rock or pop song, and then suddenly, in mid-song, someone changed the channel to MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball where some brutal death/black metal is playing. If you’re going to try merging soft and heavy music together, an incredible amount rides on the transitions, and often in this case they’re just too abrupt and shocking for the listener to feel at ease. That’s why songs like Desolate Ever After, Parasite My Heart, and Black Star fall short of their otherwise promising potential. It’s a little frustrating to hear such relaxing and beautiful melodies floating in your ears, and then to suddenly, jarringly be subjected to black metal speed drumming or demonic-sounding vocals.

On the other hand, there are several very good songs which manage to avoid the above-mentioned problem. In A Bodiless Heart is excellent, a light airy tune which makes good use of rhythm guitar to create an endearing melody. This song includes some of Ihsahn’s clean singing and he does an outstanding job in this instance. Veils of Blue is another high point of the album; with its progressive and jazz influences it stands out as one of the most unique tracks. Stillness is also a decent song, as well as The Banks of This River Is Night.

I do appreciate, to a large degree, what Peccatum tries to do. They are clearly very talented musicians with some intriguing ideas. I’d say that in terms of total minutes of playing time, about 75% of this music is actually great, but the more extreme elements mar the listenability of the album as a whole. It’s not such a problem for me though, because if I want to hear music similar to this, it already exists in a more perfect form. In 2002 Ihriel borrowed the same basic concept for her Star of Ash solo project, and created a truly masterful piece of work (which may suggest where the true talent lies in Peccatum). While she took some of that soft/loud dichotomy with her, her album contains nothing like the brain-pummeling metal segments found in this work, and is far superior for it. If Peccatum would follow that lead on their next album they could end up with a real winner. The Lost in Reverie sound is something to build upon, but needs more refinement to be truly great.