Review: Monte Penumbra – As Blades in the Firmament (End All Life Productions / Oration, Mar 26)

a3398616485_10“Firmament” is a loaded word; no matter how your particular use of it behaves it will invariably evoke Biblical themes. The lyrics for reclusive project Monte Penumbra’s newest album aren’t available online, but based on the sound—of both the words and the music—alone they certainly reach as high (or low) as this association implies. Apocalyptic growls and howls emerge from a bottomless chasm in opener “Black Mould on Rye Grass,” and some clever layering throughout this track and more sparingly in some of the others renders the vocals somewhere between the utterances of a single person and that of a group of individuals in shared misery, both intimate, solitary lament and the collective chorus of the crucified. The overall atmosphere of As Blades in the Firmament is a dense and oppressive one, but none of the instruments bleed into each other much, so there’s always at least a few layers to unpack rather than a homogeneous mass of noise—not that I’m ever opposed to that, of course. Such a production style was a great choice for these compositions, especially in complementing the guitar and drum interplay, whose interlocking parts often swap complexity or emphasis to create a constant sense of heavy, monumental shift within the music. There’s this constant uneasy truce between dissonant angularity and triumphant resolution in the riffs, but neither ever seems to win out, and thus the experience of listening to As Blades in the Firmament is equally uneasy. Dread and excitement aren’t meant to coexist like this.