It’s always a tough one when a much-loved band split up. Such was the case when Interlock did so – on the verge of announcing the release of a second album. Their first album proper, after a long period of playing small venues and releasing the odd track and a split EP with Needleye, was an impressive blast of industrial metal that refused to allow itself to be constrained by any limitations of genre, and so resulted in a varied album that was just happy to be melodic as it was face-meltingly heavy.
So I must confess, that when it came to checking out the new band from Hal Sinden and Joe Butterworth, it was with a little bit of trepidation. As when it is made clear that they are stepping out in a new direction, you can’t help be a little concerned as to whether it will be something you like or not.
And doubly so when it is proudly announced as “progressive metal”.
But, wait, come back. As it happens, this is awesome stuff. And you know what else is great? The three tracks from the short Reason & Abstract EP released last year are not present at all – meaning that we actually get eleven new songs. Nice work (and something that doesn’t happen often enough).
From the off, the stylistic shift from Hal’s previous band is extraordinarily stark. Gone are the industrial elements, in the main, moving instead to a multi-faceted extreme metal style, something that opener Ananta (The Portrait) delivers brilliantly. As it winds into life, it is underpinned by a breathtaking, searing blastbeat, Hal delivering a vocal that effortlessly switches between a croon and a gutteral snarl, and some nice riffage that at points gives way to more melodic, mellow sections – and despite the repeating switching, this works well. And the fearsome climax of the track is just brilliant.
This is just the first of quite a number of highlights here. A Fortune Worth It’s Disguise starts off like a gathering storm before unleashing a four-minute whirlwind that miraculously, in amongst the unrelenting brutality, manages to have me singing along every time. That’s some feat. And to follow that up, Messaline brings the pace right down, to a chugging, doomy sound that seems to suit Hal’s vocal style perfectly.
The real highlight of the album, though, is the lengthy centrepiece that is Elsewhere, But For The Giving. It takes a long while to unfold, but the journey is worth taking – swirling electronics pull ever tighter around languid metallic rhythms, before all drops off to reveal a gentle ticking, a multitude of muttering voices, and then a mighty roar unleashes two minutes of monstrous riffwork to close a track that the first time I heard, I felt the need to applaud it off.
One side-effect, perhaps, of the more proggy take on things here generally is that there isn’t a great deal of straight-up death metal. Which in the grand scheme of things, is a good thing – after all, I find an album of pure death metal frequently rather boring to listen to, unless it’s done by bands like Nile – bands that have found ways to break away from the rather generic sound and strike out on their own. And this is something Talanas have done very well here, to the point that the more straight-played death-workouts like The Ecstasy of Betrayal and Antiphon are actually genuinely thrilling (and the latter has a damned impressive video, too).
It’s also worth noting that some of the influences on Talanas are plainly clear. Penetralium sounds for all the world like a later-period Akercocke track, but amalgamating the proggy and death contrasts rather better, for me, than Akercocke did on Antichrist (an album I simply struggled to ever get in to). Another influence, Opeth, rears it’s head for the short Prussia White. However this for me is the one irrelevance on the album – little more than a linking piece between the tracks before and after, and it all seems rather overwrought and the album would be better without it. One other influences noted, by the way, is the solo work of Ihsahn – at points this album is very much in a similar style.
The album closes with the (very) lengthy The Unhealing, a track deliberately split into two parts, and both are very much in a proggy vein, which isn’t really my thing. However it is clearly performed, like the rest of the album, by a group of musicians who clearly know their stuff, and are talented enough to be able to take source material (that in other hands may end up sounding rather derivative) and twist it into new, thrilling forms.
And this is the winning marker for Talanas. A band who have set their stall out to do something different, not just to follow the herd in the extreme metal scene, and have come out from this having set the bar extremely high. This is an album of quite astounding quality – with an exquisite production to match. I’ll be surprised if I hear a better album in this realm during 2011.