“The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them. They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.”
What cosmic, tenebrous horrors lurk beneath the din of Al Azif! Black seas of infinity open up before us. A nefarious, ululating bleakness, a furrowing of the brow and an insanity fed by the horror of existence. No other can so confidently manipulate the aberrant fear and wonder that takes hold when I delve into the Necronomicon. In the same way I found myself helplessly at the mercy of Lovecraft’s short stories, incapable of tearing myself away – I find myself locked into a groove with Al Azif, a juggernaut of emotional might. Extreme music that pulls your heartstrings in all directions. The nature of this album leaves little time for reflection or self-introspection. What results is a brilliant piece of art that successfully holds the listener’s attention for the duration on both an emotional and personal level. The thematic idea of the unknown is conveyed successfully and the band prove worthy of the descriptor Lovecraftian.
The ideology behind Al Azif, the debut album from this five-piece French horde, draws from a deeper well of inspiration than the cyclopean song titles and non-Euclidean contours of cover art may imply. Part of the allure to a Lovecraft story is the idea of journeying into the unknown: uncovering forgotten truths and revealing pieces of eternity too great for the eye of man. Al Azif is the Leviathan of Ahab’s nightmares: a colossal shadow engulfing light and hope. Its true form is never revealed; we are left to ponder the disheveled, emotive remnants of the observer. Al Azif is a grand narrative in the Lovecraftian vein, playing heavily on emotional responses while feeding fear. One amorphous, malevolent, unspeakable experience!
The style falls into the post-black metal camp, albeit injected with more potent venom. There are achingly beautiful walls of melody that reach nauseating crescendos, which are always reinforced with a more direct bloodline to the aggressive tendencies of orthodox black metal. Battering-ram drums seek to bolster the delicate affectations of post-rock. There are psychedelic reflections that summon memories of Clint Mansell soundtracks. Lead guitars glisten through thick, caverned layers of sound that constantly shift and change. Tremolo riffs give way to gruff, palm-muted moments of intense aggression. Experimental flourishes rise in abundance throughout (the unhinged jazzed-up lead towards the end of ‘Rue d’Auseil’).
This is black metal of a higher caliber. Where Portal succeed in conjuring the feel of the Old Gods with their spatio-temporally ambiguous slabs of dizzying death metal, The Great Old Ones actively relay the experiences of the observer. You are Francis Wayland Thurston stood before the threshold of the city of R’lyeh – and the music is affecting enough for me to believe this.
Not that this music should be appreciated solely in terms of its interest in Lovecraftian subject matter – for Al Azif is the album this LURKER has been waiting for. Equal parts aggressive and serene, The Great Old Ones manage to summon feelings of the sublime and majesty, terror and fear, as well as hate and belligerence. It would be lazy to lump these gentlemen in with popular acts like Altar of Plagues, Fen or even Wolves in the Throne Room. The Great Old Ones wear the ambient (or post-rock inferred) tag with relative disregard for how that translates in underground circles. Al Azif is a journey into the heart of darkness. Gripping, intense and ambitious – truths shall be revealed. The old ones shall rise. The band’s agenda is alien. Suggesting similarities in sound and context would be forced and untrue. What Al Azif lacks has probably got more to do with the current philosophies floating around in underground circles. How the band approaches their music in general is most likely very different. There is no repetition, no rehashing of others’ ideas and, most importantly, a feeling of complete sincerity. How alien and unknown that has become in today’s musical climate!