Album: Self-Annihilating Consciousness
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Release Date: 16 February, 2018
Metalheads of Washington state are frankly spoiled. Extreme metal has taken root in the greater Seattle area and in recent years has created a scene which could rival Florida’s death metal scene or the bay area thrash explosion. Just an hour away, neighboring town Olympia has contributed to the fray with acts such as Wolves in the Throne Room and Earth. Out of the bustling area rises Eigenlicht, an atmospheric black metal band born from ex-members of Skagos, Fauna, and Ekstasis. Eigenlicht has a lot of black metal pedigree going into their first full-length release, Self-Annihilating Consciousness. The album strives to be a pagan spiritual journey of the self, wherein an individual becomes engulfed by the flaming sword of truth which is displayed on the album’s cover. Eigenlicht’s vision and creativity is apparent, and while Self-Annihilating Consciousness is a solid album, it suffers from inconsistency as a result of its sprawling ambition.
Before delving into the album’s shortcomings, let’s start with the good: the first two tracks on this album are excellent. The introduction, while unassuming, immediately establishes a droning atmosphere to set the pace for the album. We hear the soft tremolo of a guitar fade in as a flute gives the melody. The tune is haunting and distant; it holds the ethereal transcendence often found in traditional Native American music. For an album about self-discovery and spiritual awakening, I cannot think of a better way to begin the journey. The two-minute ordeal also follows the tradition of second-wave black metal artists who incorporated themes from their pagan ancestors as a revolt against European imperialism.
After setting the stage, the introduction leads perfectly into the immense “Hagia Sophia.” The track slowly fades as we’re lured into the inviting reverence of a solo drum playing a soft beat. Electric guitars soar above the rhythm to create a saturated, rich atmosphere. The emerging sound is that of a funeral march; Eigenlicht orchestrates a somber ambiance to guide our journey. The track cuts out as a synth plays a new melody which is more driven and direct. The drums softly rejoin the mix to give a double-time run on the toms which pushes the song further and gives a new intent to the music. Electric guitars then abruptly burst back in along with Ray Hawes’ menacing vocals. The pace declines back to the original beat and the band emerges with a funeral doom inspired riff which permeates through the majority of the song. In fact, we don’t see any distinctly black metal riffing until the 9:27 mark, where the guitars and drums erupt into a frenzy of blackened aggression. Tremolo picked chords bring the familiar drone of atmospheric black metal while Johnny Delacy’s blast beats thrust the song into the listener’s immediate attention.
The direction and pacing of this song are brilliant; the diminished, subtle sound of the funeral march coaxes listeners into a meditative observance before throttling them into a harsh awakening. The immense change in pace and tone provide a unique dichotomy which keeps the entire 14 minutes enthralling. After reaching the end of the epic, I was strapping myself in and anticipating the rest of the album to yield an classic debut akin to Wolves in the Throne Room’s Diadem of 12 Stars. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off the train soon after.
The third track, “Labrys,” starts with an upbeat riff which sounds like it could belong in Looney Tunes. I don’t mean that to sound like an insult, but I hear “Hello, My Ragtime Gal” anytime I hear that first riff. It’s not a bad riff by any means, but the choice to put it immediately after the monumental soundscape of “Hagia Sophia” is puzzling, to say the least. The previous song had me basking in the atmosphere, but “Labrys” dragged me out of it immediately. While the music returned to an atmospheric drone, the damage was already done and I had difficulty falling back into a captivated trance. The rest of the song was good, but not particularly memorable. A dissonant warble pervades the majority of the track, which is interesting to some extent but ultimately leaves something to be desired. After spending so much time in the dissonance, a strong melodic resolution would have been a welcome change of pace, but it never comes. The song does eventually go back to a more melodic interplay between the synth and guitars, but it doesn’t punch through with enough force to counteract the strength of the previous dissonance. That may have been a conscious choice, but it resulted in a song which leaves a weak impression and lacks a strong identity.
The last two songs on Self-Annihilating Consciousness, “Deifugal Force” and “Berserker” suffer from similar issues. They aren’t bad per se, but demonstrate the inconsistency in songwriting found on this album. The songs settle into a mundane hum which leaves them indistinguishable from any other US black metal song. After the unique, transcendental experience of “Hagia Sophia,” good songs simply aren’t good enough for this album. My main grievance with the album is that it had the potential to revolutionize US black metal, but ultimately the latter portions didn’t demonstrate the same energy and passion as the beginning. Furthermore, while I generally love long songs with several movements, “Hagia Sophia” is the only song which justifies the longevity. In contrast, “Deifugal Force” and “Berserker” only have a few movements and most of the transitions are just slight variations of the same theme. The tonal changes which do occur are welcome and provide a great relief in the songs, but they don’t occur often enough or strongly enough given the massive length of these songs.
Honestly, I would have prefered for Eigenlicht to write a single-song album akin to Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper based on the themes in “Hagia Sophia.” Elements from the other songs could have been incorporated still, but we would then have a more concise product with a profound impact. Instead, we’re left with an album with too much ambition and several songs which contain a ton of filler. Self-Annihilating Consciousness is still a good release and a great first effort, but I hope to see Eigenlicht refine their product in the future so that we can be treated to a true masterpiece.
1. There Lies already the Shadow of Annihilation
2. Hagia Sophia
4. Deifugal Force
Total Playing Time: 53:55