Being the kind of person who dwells on semantics, a band like Thränenkind bothers me even before I've heard a note of their music. Described as 'post-metal', the label leaves me scratching my head. Metal is still alive and flourishing, and it shows no signs of going anywhere, so what does post-metal even mean? In the other arts, post-modernism had a point; it was a deliberate realignment of what art was supposed to be, taking it back from the modernist school, which was both unified and generational. Metal is not like the other arts, however. Metal is so diverse, and apparently a musical cockroach, that the next generations have seen no need to take music back, nor any way to do so. In fact, post-metal is a complete failure of an experiment, because it still uses all the elements of metal, but feels either too proud or too ashamed to admit what it is.
None of that says anything about the actual music, but in a day and age where we break down metal into the smallest possible box of contemporaries, there is some importance to be placed on the labels a band chooses for themselves. I have received albums that I've liked quite a bit, only to see the band describe it in a way contrary to everything I've heard, which makes me consider the otherwise good music a miserable failure for not being at all what the band wanted it to be.
Now on to “The Elk”, a half-instrumental concept album about two siblings traveling to their father's funeral. Already, you know this is going to be an uplifting journey. The opening statement “Monument” is less than four minutes, but is everything you need to hear to make a determination of the album. The opening chords are somber and beautiful, building up until the song kicks into gear, at which point the overbearing shouted vocals sound like a car with a mismatched hood looks. The parts are right, but they don't go together.
And that feeling is what kneecaps the album before it ever had a chance. Instrumentally, Thränenkind is a really good band. They use their instruments to great effect, conjuring up some truly wonderful atmospheres. A song like “Just Another Way Of Expressing Defeat” is a beautiful instrumental that ebbs and flows through feelings, repeating without ever feeling like a demo someone forgot to put vocals on. The entire album is like that, instrumentally effective, and vocally suicidal.
A song like “The King Is Dead” is short and sweet, and can work under different circumstances. But the vocal delivery, obscured to the point of being utterly unintelligible, completely ruins anything positive the song could have built up. A more skilled vocalist, even remaining harsh, would have made a world of difference.
“The Elk” fails on two levels. It isn't good enough as an album, because the vocals are so distracting to everything else going on. It also fails as a concept album, because the story the lyrics try to tell is indecipherable without reading them as the album moves along. Listening to “The Elk”, you would never guess it was a concept album, which makes the fact that it is rather pointless.
Semantic issues aside, I wanted to like “The Elk”, because Thränenkind shows immense promise on some of these tracks. The band does a fine job of giving themselves the lush landscape to paint their story, but the picture never comes into focus. In what might be the first time I've ever said this, “The Elk” would be better as an instrumental release. At least that way, Thränenkind would be showcasing what they're actually good at.