When Alaric’s self-titled first album came out in 2011, under the auspice of 20 Buck Spin, the resurgence of Death Punk was still not as palpable as it is now, and it was a tremendous surprise and pleasure to discover an album that could take you back to the golden days of the genre and keep that combination of Punk anger and Post negativity and desolation while sounding fresh and contemporary. But here we are now, five years later, and I thought they had stopped their activities after sharing another 12” vinyl with their neighbours from Atriarch; but these experienced guys (let’s not forget they played in bands such as Cross Stitched Eyes or Noothgrush, just to name the ones closer to their sound and style) suddenly release a new second full-length, this time under none other than Neurot Recordings.
The return of Oakland’s is not only that, it’s something else. It’s a big evolution in terms of composition, personality and sound. Because, despite ‘End of Mirrors’ keeps the essence of Alaric’s sound (the influences of Killing Joke, Crass or even Amebix are still very rooted in their sound) they do not stop there at all. It’s actually quite a step forward, a huge one, event if it’s in a delicate manner. Because those atmospheric and very percussion driven parts are mixed now with way heavier ones, something they were already announcing on that previous split. The guitars and bass combine those ethereal and most intimate parts with punishing ones, even having some catchy cavalcades. And, all in all, it’s a jump of their sound into a lot denser and darker territories than their debut, but this doesn’t mean they’ve completely gone into Doom laden ambiances and suddenly increased low distortion to drown themselves into heaviness.
It’s actually a way more subtle process, as the basis of their sound is still pretty clean and Punk related, both in the way they wrote the songs, with simplicity and rawness distilling all along the record and being their flag, and how they execute them, as you could think they’re just in front of you given how naturally they develop, sometimes in an almost ethereal and improvised way, as the beginning of the second side of the vinyl. It's actually a jump in terms of production too. Mr. Skot Brown (¿Altar de Fey someone?) did an enormous job capturing their purest essence, which was afterwards empowered by the infallible Brad Boatright, getting a perfect ballance for their already polarised moments.
The biggest change one feels when listening to the record for the first time, as mentioned above, is actually those few moments where they decide to unleash their most extreme feelings and go for slightly more metallic and doomy sounding riffs. If I had to think about some comparisons to describe that side of ‘End of Mirrors’, it shouldn’t sound so strange that they have been signed to Neurot Recordings, because there’s something from the softer and more atmospheric Neurosis vibe in their music, probably because they share a few influences, but still very similar. On the angriest parts, the ones that bring them to clear Amebix shores, they wouldn’t be too far from the first Morne album. But that's just one small part of it, as it’s in the details where one finds the best improvements and evolutive signs. No matter if it’s in the progressions from those angry riffs to Post-Punkish atmospheres. Or if it’s in the beautifully simple and repetitive rhythmic patterns the drums and the bass draw in the same way as a painter magically delineating a sketch. They actually have somewhat of a seventies Prog touch in that sense.
And it's definitely those softer parts that I enjoy the most from Alaric’s compositions, because they are simply perfect for moments of solitude and negativeness. I can actually find a lot more despair and devoid of hope in some of these songs than in a lot of more extreme and darker bands. Alaric manage to sound terribly sad, sometimes even empty; but, on the other side, they know very well of to sound full of energy and ready to fight too when they want, they just need to introduce some of those warlike almost Bolt-throwerish riffs and break the chains that were retaining them. And let’s not forget Mr. Shane Baker, who delivers here what’s without the shadow of a doubt his best performance, with a lot of different vocal nuances when the songs require them, while keeping his tone sober and very emotional.
I've said enough, no more words needed. "This is the end of mirrors, this is the end. That's right, get what you came for", which is obviously Alaric's new album.
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.