M E T A by YLVARelease date: November 17, 2017
Label: Pelagic Records / Translation Loss Records
YLVA hail from Melbourne, Australia, the capital of the country for the arts and, in my recent experience, the majority of the country’s heavy music output. M E T A is the band’s debut album, which makes the compositions held within all the more astonishing and accomplished. There’s no mistake that the four musicians here are extremely talented, and must have cut their teeth on previous projects, in order to allow YLVA to have the sonic power and arsenal that it immediately has from album opener ‘Sting in the Air’. The track is a good introduction to the overall sound on offer throughout M E T A. I hesitate to use the term, because what was once so loved is now often so thoroughly derided, but if you liked the swell of post-metal from around a decade ago, YLVA will probably be a win for your eardrums.
The four-piece certainly bring in other elements to their sound – such as sludge, doom and a penchant for using acoustic guitar here and there – but the sound is rooted in the post-metal sub-genre. One could convincingly claim that M E T A mixes the two distinct ‘periods’ of post-metal. They revel in the immediacy of the genre (think ISIS’ Celestial or Cult of Luna’s self-titled debut) on ‘Hunting Room’, ‘Metadata’ and ‘Lapse’ in particular. The remaining tracks have more in common with the slow-paced, patient, menacing build ups of the latter post-metal ‘tipping-point’ years that discovered a new melodicism. YLVA have succeeded in navigating any traps along the way, and M E T A seems like a reflection on the sub-genre – an astute listener’s academic examination, before organically creating a sound from this prior study. European examples that spring to mind would be IZAH and Hemelbestormer. This may all sound like I’m accusing the members of YLVA as being incredibly calculated, and that I find this approach somehow negative. No: M E T A is a product not only of creativity, but a deep understanding of the music that has influenced them and that they have built the foundations of this album upon. Without that analysis, many a band and album slips into the musical void – unremarkable, too similar a colour to the bedrock of their respective genres to be remembered or summoned for even for a cursory second listen.
The aforementioned shorter tracks take the listener off-guard after the slow, haunting build up and explosive energy of ‘Sting in the Air’. ‘Hunting Room’ bellows and snarls. The band spread vocals across all members bar their drummer, and each voice is close enough in range and timbre that there is a continuity in style and approach, despite their being enjoyable nuance between the voices screaming for your attention. There’s a predictable dose of Aaron Turner (ISIS, Sumac, Old Man Gloom) in the mix, but I also hear some vocal likenesses from lesser known bands such as The Postman Syndrome. The production across the album is excellent and really allows for the vocals to ‘pop’ in just the way I like on heavy albums: subsumed in the mix for the most part and then allowed to ride the crest of a sonic wave to add an extra weight to the dynamics at certain points. ‘Metadata’ and ‘Lapse’ are a strong couple in the middle of the album, using the impetus gained from ‘Hunting Room’ to push the listener around and expand YLVA’s sonic palette. ‘Lapse’ in particular is touching; a reflective moment in a sea of sounds that are mostly striving to push forward. It is a brilliant piece of dynamic engineering to place the track before the crushing thirteen-minute backbone of M E T A begins.
‘The Fall’ is a juggernaut, make no mistake. It contains the sum total and wrath of YLVA’s riff intensive worship, ironically by pairing down the complexity previously described. It towers across the album and, on reflection, changes the overall art of M E T A, once the album has been played through in its entirety. It is, I imagine, going to be a favourite for many who pick up this album and start to follow YLVA through future endeavours. It is certainly the track others seem keen to focus on. However, let me be controversial, and state I believe it to be the weakest track. It would serve incredibly well on a split. But, for me, it knocks a little too much wind out of M E T A’s sails, and skirts too close to the event horizon of indistinct post-metal. It is a fine track, recorded with pinpoint accuracy, but it is an odd momentum shift that YLVA only just about manage to successfully navigate. Perhaps, with repeated listens, the track will calm in my mind, and settle back down into the album’s track-listing, but for now ‘The Fall’ feels a track to – dare I say it – wait through…
This may be all the more poignant, in this reviewer’s mind, because the track following ‘The Fall’ and that also serves as album closer, is the jewel in the crown. ‘Widowed’ is insanely brilliant, and I cannot for a minute understand why this isn’t the track I first heard when I was introduced to YLVA online by whatever scary – try not to think about it – algorithm that was working on my social media at the time. M E T A ends on a supreme high note (ironic given the dirge YLVA create), and the band should be lauded for it. It is the track that combines all the best moments from the album – yes, including ‘The Fall’ – and combines them into a shining beacon of what post-metal can be in 2017.
I remember, only a few years ago, writing some kind of paean into the social media matrix, asking ‘what was the metal world missing’ when it came to the Antipodean scene. It seemed a harder culture to break into than South America, or even South-East Asia. Bands would always pop up from those areas, or catch a break on a tour, and suddenly – after a simple bit of Internet hunting – you could and would be rewarded with lots of other bands discovered. Not so, in my past experience with Australia and New Zealand. In recent years, there seems to have been an explosion, though: bands and labels have suddenly found a way to breach their borders. Thanks to them. Thanks to those labels. Thanks to European and American bands and labels for starting to invite, invest and promote. However it may have happened (I sense an article begging to be written, and Bandcamp being mentioned quite a lot), what an enrichment of an already dazzling scene. It’s like finding a continent; new land, new strains of life, at once recognisable but still foreign; strange, unusual. Be a musical pioneer – check this scene out. At the very least, check out YLVA. Kick off from there.