Ennui by Opium EaterRelease date: October 12, 2017
Label: Art As Catharsis Records
Ennui is defined as “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement”, which is really not something I would associate with this, the debut full-length from New Zealand’s Opium Eater. Beautiful, mesmerising, epic yet intimate – all of these are phrases that leap more comfortably to mind after a couple of listens, rather than ‘ennui’. Released on the Art As Catharsis label – which is fast becoming a bit of a Mecca for fans of forward thinking post-inflected metal and drone – this record should establish Opium Eater as an exciting new voice in a scene that has felt a little flat in the last few months. By that I mean to say that Ennui is a fucking great album.
Opium Eater take the builds of Godspeed, the drones of Un, the staggeringly heavy sludge of Neurosis at their finest and the invention of a progressive band, to create a stunning tapestry of cinematic sound. It takes the listener on a weird emotional journey, oozing an existential bleakness but also feeling curiously uplifting; for example, the effect of the final denouement of ‘Post-Tense’, soaked in guitar lines that sound like they should have been played on ‘Mladic’ by GS!YBE, which drops suddenly into the quiet drones of ‘The Not-I’ was that of a curious elation. The use of clean vocals separates Opium Eater from the rest of the pack, sounding a little like the excellent and much missed Giant Squid – making the harsher vocals, used with real power in ‘Worry is at the Door’, even more effective and abrasive than they would otherwise be.
The band approach the music almost like jazz musicians in places – playing with interesting structures around the core line – usually it’s the rhythm section that create these slightly awkward rhythms around a more straightforward main guitar line – it creates the impression of a more fluid tone to the songs than I suspect is the case – although it feels almost relaxed in places, I suspect this is one carefully planned piece of music. Other influences come to the fore elsewhere – ‘Worry is at the Door’ features an almost grunge-y section, including a big, standing-on-a-cliff-with-the-wind-blowing-your-hair guitar solo; album closer ‘Ennui’ features a section that feels like it belongs on a post-hardcore record, sounding a bit like a tuned down Planes Mistaken For Stars with an eye toward the infinite.
Opener ‘Collapse’ is a beautiful start to the album – largely instrumental, it grows slowly from ambient drones, before a loose drum part ups the tempo and ushers in a repeating clean guitar loop and a rumbling bass line. This gradually increases in intensity, with reverb soaked guitar lines gradually moving from the background to the foreground before the proverbial wave breaks on the beach and the song goes full Godspeed; the sudden drop into the fantastic ‘The Effect of a Tragedy on its Spectators’ is great, with another dynamic shift down to a basic guitar line before the distortion pedals are well and truly stomped on and we get a dose of colossal volume and some shouted vocals; Opium Eater demonstrate an excellent use of dynamics, with a clear understanding of the power of volume and tension, but also the value of blending the predictable and the unpredictable. For every comforting crescendo that the listener expects, there is one that comes out of nowhere and keeps the listener off guard.
‘Babelsteps’ is a towering achievement of a song, bringing progressive tendencies to the fore, sounding in places a little like Elder, or Echoes and Dust favourites Dvne. The more progressive sections are given real space to breathe, but there is always a little touch that keeps the listener engaged, be it a little bit of cymbal work or a nice touch on the guitar. The song is a great fractal paradigm of the whole record; bringing in excellent sung vocals, progressive touches, a post-rock feel, a big riffy section that feels a little like Torche, a melodic line that feels like it could have come from a grunge record and some staggeringly heavy Neurosis style sludge in places. That sounds like the song is covering a lot of ground in its 9 minute run time, and it is, but importantly it makes sense, the song feels like it has a genuine narrative flow and it works, right down to the recorded amp buzz that marks the end of the song.
If I had to be picky, I’d say that the heavier vocals are not fantastic – particularly next to the more striking clean vocals, which have a far more defined personality and feel more unique. That said, the placement of the harsh vocals is well thought out, and they are still impactful, although it feels slightly lessened. Musically the band are great – they can all really play, and the portrayal of a jazzy ‘looseness’ can only really be achieved by a band that is clearly a very tight musical unit.
Overall Ennui is a hell of a journey, and a remarkable achievement for a debut full length; a 55 minute exercise in post-prog-psyche-sludge-noise-drone-rock, or something like that, anyway. As an album it takes in many vistas, masters them all and draws them together as a coherent vision which is executed perfectly. It is an emotional journey that is designed to make the listener feel something, and more often than not it hits it’s mark; again demonstrating (and delivering on) an astounding level of confidence for a debut album. It’s genuinely the best piece of music I’ve heard in the last few weeks, and every time I listen I take something else from it, if only a reminder as to the lovely sound of the guitar as ‘Post-Tense’ reaches its climax. Do ears a favour and pick this record up – it’s ‘Name Your Price’ on Art As Catharsis’ bandcamp, meaning you have no excuse, really, do you?