Echtra - Paragate
Temple of Torturous
Ambient/Black Metal
2 songs (46:00)
Release year: 2011
Echtra, Temple of Torturous
Reviewed by Charles
The flower power world of Cascadian black metal is a little more diverse than it is often given credit for, and if you lift away the mossy stones that are the scene’s big names you will find a fecund patch of ground crawling with more esoteric creatures. From Blood of the Black Owl’s tribalistic atmospherics to Fauna’s nocturnal drones, there is a wealth of dour minimalism that is perfect background music for communing with woodland ancestors, if you have any. Echtra is one such project (indeed it is the eponymous solo output of one of Fauna’s members) and Paragate is an understated and slow moving piece of ambient music in which barely anything happens. There is, of course, a buy-in with this sort of thing. It can seem incredibly tedious, but if you accept the premise and listen without distractions, it can also be an immersive experience. Overall I must confess to being unmoved. That's partly because of some structuring issues (see below), but perhaps also because I don't have a spiritual bone in my body.

The sound is hardly complex. The first track and the first half of the second (both 23:00 long; a number Echtra seems fixated with) are built around creeping single-note acoustic guitar ostinatos. These lines at first, to me at least, seem weak and characterless, particularly when juxtaposed with the brilliance of the acoustic ideas used by fellow USBM acts like Petrychor, but this is to miss the point: that this is music for hypnotic paralysis. On Paragate I, the acoustic guitar is joined by a drone of crackling electric fuzz, which escalates by tiny increments; an unnerving drone displaying an iron-control over slow-burning dynamics. The serene character of the clean sounds is gradually obscured by a swirling haze of sinister white noise and deep vocal moans, like freshwater slowly polluted by environmental waste.

Paragate II is the track that irks me a little. Initially it seems to return to a state of restfulness, with the crystal clear guitar tones reasserting themselves at the forefront. But ten minutes in it bursts, with uncharacteristically little warning, into murky black metal very much in the vein of Skagos or Agalloch, with the acoustic sounds a ghostly residue in the background. The latter half of the track moves through a sequence of ideas, including a harrowingly effective series of crashing doom chords, with greater restlessness than before, replacing the almost hypnotic ambiance of the first three-quarters of the album with a blackened uneasiness. It's as if Echtra has suddenly decided that he can't get away with producing something so low-key.

Paragate, therefore, seems to set out its stall as an effective piece of blackened ambiance, but then aims for something else entirely in its closing quarter. As such it doesn’t seem to quite succeed, being far too static to work as a black metal record, but also assuming a disjointed character in its latter stages which undermines it as an ambient one. Whilst this has been garnering some gushing reviews elsewhere, I can’t see it as more than a curiosity.

Killing Songs :
Charles quoted 60 / 100
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