On an esoteric level, I can appreciate what black metal means to the music world. There is certainly a place for music that seeks to convey the darkest aspects of the human condition, although I have never been able to understand the particular way in which it has been manifested. Whether through pure black metal, or other sounds that have pervasive black metal influence, the appeal of such music is entirely lost on me. The monotony of the frosty guitars, and especially the shrieked vocals, leave me cold, if you pardon the pun. To me, they are not sounds that conjure images of the depravity of life, nor do they evoke in me feelings of utter desolation. More than anything, black metal makes me wonder what I'm missing, what connection in my brain came untethered so I'm not able to see and hear the appeal of those squalid sounds.
All of that brings me to Equilibrium's new album, which starts in the unenviable position of having to overcome my biases. Though 'epic metal' by name, there is more than a passing influence of black metal in these songs, which raises questions in my mind. More on that later.
Opening with a massive orchestral flourish, the epic scope of the album is on full display from the first seconds. That scope is the best thing “Erdentempel” has going for it, as the band tries as hard as they can to overcome the limitations of their particular sonic palate. “Was Lang Wahrt” by itself shows the potential this type of music has. Mixing some black metal riffs, folky guitar lines, and a knack for classic metal, by the time the chorus hits there's a feeling that is remarkably similar to Sabaton's recent output. Despite the extremity of the music, that chorus has real teeth, even to someone who isn't accustomed to listening to much music of this kind.
“Waldschrein” follows suit, upping the ante with a gorgeous orchestrated score, harkening back to the days when Hollenthon was revolutionizing extreme metal with their use of such tactics. Once again, the song manages to work because amidst the sturm und drang the band places enough of a simple hook to capture my attention. It sounds like a simple formula, but it's exceedingly difficult for an extreme metal band to pull off, as very few have ever done it well.
Equilibrium proves worthy to the task, delivering an entire album of such songs, massive bursts of extreme metal with hooks even listeners like myself have to acknowledge and enjoy.
There is an elephant in the room, however. For all the skill I hear in the songwriting, I am left wondering why the band would make the decision to put a black metal face on these songs. The vocals are clearly the weakest link on the album, alternating between forgettable and downright annoying. When they veer closer to traditional death metal growls, like on the fantastic “Karawane”, everything comes together well enough for me to be swept away. But when they are allowed to hover in black metal range, I can't help but feel that the band is stabbing themselves in the leg, perhaps to maintain a certain level of credibility.
There's plenty to love about “Erdentempel”, even for me. The songwriting on the album is amazingly sharp, diverse, and a step above the vast majority of symphonic, epic, or extreme bands. If a different vocal choice had been made, I could easily see myself playing this record dozens of times. As it is, I'm disappointed that the potential not only for a better product, but for one with a wider scope of appeal, was missed out on. “Erdentempel” is excellent for what it is, I'm just not enthralled by what that happens to be.