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Menace Ruine - Alight in Ashes

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Artist: Menace Ruine

Album: Alight in Ashes

Label: Profound Lore

Review date: Nov. 14, 2012

Rare is the record that comes along and secures its makers a seat in the “real deal” club. Menace Ruine’s Alight in Ashes is one of those golden tickets. The Canadian duo’s sound seems to clamber slowly and malevolently to the center of the room, placing itself on macabre display in a way that cannot be pushed to background sound periphery. It’s a far and lonesome cry from even the avant black metal of their Profound Lore labelmates, permeated completely with dour, neo-folkian austerity, a la Death In June or Sol Invictus, and sounding at times to be informed by modernist compositional ideas. Menace Ruine’s adeptness in mixing such alien sounds with traditional forms is a compelling listening experience.

Probably the duo’s greatest asset is their tasteful choice of instrumentation: Their music is based almost entirely on some unidentifiable, heavily processed instrument or synth patch, saturated with distortion and pushed way into the red. Those jagged timbres render a solemn melody that pierces the ambience of the opener, “Set Water to Flames.” To recurring crescendos of martial drumming, vocalist Genevieve asserts a cold command. Her wavering, powerfully enunciated style seems totally removed from any post-1500 A.D. musical tradition, evocative of old-world occult and mysticism, as unsettling as it is familiar.

“Salamandra” sets a medieval folk melody to a seething electric drone and the threatening, distant beat of frame drums, creating a starkly minimal effect not unlike early Suicide. More bizarre instrumentation/production is rolled out for “Burnt Offerings,” a dirge based on what seems to be the sound of a heavily processed hurdy-gurdy. Luminescent tones wheeze away unaccompanied for a full eight-plus minutes, nearly threatening to burn out as they decay.

“Disease of Fear” creeps into being with an odd, repetitive theme that would complement a Jorg Buttgereit film, the frequencies of the mystery instrument reaching pain-inducing levels – play loud (if you can stand it). The vertiginous “Arsenikon (Faded in Discord)” is a slow-motion free fall into cacophony, with Genevieve’s multi-tracked vocal progressing from soothing to terrifying as the song erupts into an impossibly dense coda of grinding, sawtooth tones and crashing percussion.

Carving out a semblance of an original sound in this day and age of instant, on-demand media, where anyone can call “bullshit” on you with a few YouTube searches, is no easy task. Informed by a clear history of what came before them, Menace Ruine have fashioned and mastered their own vocabulary, and in so doing they push the infernal potential of music into new territory. For an instantly sobering listen, you can do little better.

By Adam MacGregor

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