Unsettling Whispers by Gaerea
Well, here at DCL home crypt; we like to cover a lot of ground. Not just figuratively, but literally. Wether we are running on different terrains or pumping iron in hotel gyms across the world, or, more than likely, exploring all of the worlds richest offerings in heavy metal and punk rock, we’re all about it. Citizens of the world if you will. In fact, just our last 3 reviews featured bands from Norway, England, and the Faroe Islands; go figure. Now we’re taking a stab (or in reality, they are taking a stab at us) at Portugal. An often overlooked slice of the Mediterranean, being overshadowed by Italy and Greece and such, maybe. More importantly, due to their shadow lurking, maybe thats why the produce such incredible black metal music. Exhibit A; Gaerea. Portugal’s tastes extreme metal outfit (literally…another band in anonymous outfits…more on that later…) not only pushes but breaks the sonic boundaries of extreme music, integrating the atmospheric and depressive side of black metal with the triumphant and crushing side. And the yin and the yang never worked out too much better. Without further ado, let’s jump into the void created by their latest LP, Unsettling Whispers.
Currently, especially in the black/extreme metal realm, if feels as though there is a lot of pretension going on. Over which band can be the most sophisticated yet extreme, technical yet catchy, creating atmospheric elements with exotic instruments and marrying it with traditional extreme metal that’d either make the purists and pioneers roll over in their grave or dig the fuck out of it. Either way, I’m not mad at it. There are plenty of these new extreme metal bands that do this very well, and others not so much. I feel like, just as well with anything else, it’s easy to tell the phonies from the true appreciators and pioneers of the art, and have something real to say. Such is the case with Gaerea. While their debut full length out on Transcending Obscurity Records (a quite fucking fantastic label, if I do say so myself. Please go check them out if you haven’t already) is perhaps not my favorite record of said genre and music quality, but it is definitely interesting; and quite good. In a weird way, the best I can describe this music is refreshing… but hold on right there. Let’s set the ‘ol record straight for a second, I do NOT mean the jump in the ocean and swim with the dolphins and crack a mikes hard lemonade with the ladies. refreshing. Although that has it’s benefits.. this is refreshing in the deepest and darkest crevices of the word. In a black metal sense, the world is kind of become jaded, no matter how heavy or smart you are. Or how cool and anonymous your cloaks are. At this point - I GET IT. That being said (and vented), Gaerea is a little different - well, a lot different. Their sound truly is unique to them. They perfectly blend the grim atmosphere, depressive, sludge metal with bold, loud, fast, and truly fucking HEAVY black and even death metal elements. And the thing is, it remains very heavy and dark throughout… and thats what separates them from the rest. There are no beautiful melodies, insane instruments, or any sound effects or crazy electronic experimentation. In this case, that is a good thing and that works VERY well for Gaerea. Not that those other bands aren’t fantastic in their own right but its almost at the point now where what new band can actually do that stuff better? Gaerea doesn’t give a single fuck to find out - they are themselves through and through and as a result produced an insanely impressive, blistering, and artistic piece of music from start to finish.
The opening track, Svn, does a killer job at setting the mood - slow, dark, thick, and heavy. Not to be confused with the porno of the same name. Wait, what? Nevermind! Yeah, things start off grim and atmospheric, which is very… nice. The brutal sort of death metal growls take center stage, while the sludgey yet triumphant music in the background holds strong. The combination of the hybrid black & death metal style vocals, heavy & groovy pounding of the animal skins , and lurking strings makes a very unique and signature sound for the band. This song grabs your attention slowly, sort of initiating a trance type state - then absolutely fucks you up during the last sixty seconds. Whoever the masked beast is on the drums goes quite apeshit and the vocal patterns pick up, while the guitar pretty much stays they same. Lurking, glacial, and evil. I’m thinking it is very clear that Gaerea’s music is meant to be a bit of a mind fuck, if you’re paying attention. And they mind fuck you very good, trust me. The sludge - death vibe they’re going for really sounds cool and different from the atmosphere created by similar bands. Let’s see if this stays true for the rest of the record.
It does. The opening track seamlessly bleeds into the next tune, Absent. Don’t let the title fool you, it most certainly has a presence. Picking up where Svn left off and builds on it, only further introducing us to the metaphorical dark void realm portrayed on this record. The story is from a third person point of view, observing the occurrences in said void and reporting back on them, and their outlook (surprisingly) is not too overwhelmingly positive. And this song establishes that rather clearly. It is one of the faster and heavier numbers on the record, but tempo shifts and gloomy riffs are ever present. The groove of the drums and rattling of the cymbals compliments the pissed off vocals that circulate through the airwaves. That’s another thing that separates them from others - the sound genuinely pissed off. And it sounds fucking awesome. Yes, their lyrics, themes, and compositions are certainly smart; as well as deriving inspiration from works of art and literature - but they pull it off without being too pretentious. It just sounds like genuinely good, intriguing, pissed the fuck off, dark and grim, metal music. And that, my friends, is how it should be.
They steer into the “progressive” territory on the next 8-plus minute track, Whispers, which is another glorious and triumphant work of metal. It has all of the elements of the first two tracks and more, seemingly building on top of another, the songs compliment each other. I’m beginning to realize this is truly an album and is meant to be listened to that way. All of the songs make more sense and are more interesting while listened to in context of the record, this is no collection of singles by any means. In that sense, its has a very old school record vibe, set against some new school metal vibes, it works out quite well. And it doesn’t always for a lot of bands. Hey, I guess if you’re gonna wear costumes like the current trend says you should, you better be fucking good. They’re fucking good.
The pure SOUND of this record is what is making me dig it so much. Aside from the way it is preformed, the production and sound mixing is simply very cool, unique, and once again, refreshing. But its not too polished to the point where it sounds perfect (perfect sounding metal records are lame IMHO), Gaerea maintains a balance of sounding gritty and retains that dark setting while sounding very well produced. The drums sound absolutely perfect and catch my attention more than anything on the record, which is rare. The guitar is exactly where it needs to be providing atmospheric tones but can also shred when it wants to. The only thing negative I can say about it is I wish the would’ve let the bass shine a little more, it’d really add another dimension to their already endless void of metalness. Other than that, this a phenomenal extreme metal record that hardly falls short. There is enough diversity unique enough arrangements on every track to keep the listener fully engaged from start to finish. At least I was and trust me, my attention span is dog shit. Hey - I think there must be something to this Portuguese diet.
The feelings you get from Unsettling Whispers are, well, unsettling. More or less. The snare-drum heavy, vocals from the underworld spewing chants, feels like you’re getting suited up for a gladiator match. And the warped distorted riffs sound like they’re trapped in a coffin, igniting a claustrophobic and torturous feel while Gaerea spare no details about their ghastly little world, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The last half of the record feels very much like this. There’s no shortage of powerful metal to jack you up, but there’s also no shortage of haunting and menacing vibes that’ll make your skin crawl - and I say that upholding the upmost complimentary status. For example, Cycle of Decay, is surprisingly not as harsh, but it sounds like the most viscous and haunting of the songs. It’s definitely my favorite track and does a great job at experimenting within their confines of black metal, its perfectly done. The record ends with another sludge epic, Catharsis, and puts the nail in the coffin of the void Gaerea has created. Its more of the same we know and love and I love it. I would definitely keep an eye on these guys as a can easily see them joining the ranks of Behemoth and such in the near future.
Rock Rating: 4/5
Gym Rating: 5/5
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