Painstakingly Perfected Metal

Italian band Ephel Duath have returned with the follow up to their 2003 album, "The Painter's Palette". That release won much critical acclaim for its original blend of raw 'extreme' metal and arty, jazz-inspired experimentation and made its way into the end of year 'best album' lists of magazines as diverse as "Kerrang!" and "Terrorizer". Consequently, there has been considerable anticipation for "Pain Necessary To Know".

Spinning the new CD, it soon becomes apparent that Ephel Duath have felt little need to tinker with their winning formula - which will doubtless come as a relief to many - although there has perhaps been a slight shift in focus away from the 'extreme metal' aspect of their sound and towards the more 'unconventional' elements. The accompanying press release makes comparisons with Primus, Mr Bungle, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Zorn, none of which I would dispute, but there are also strong shades of latter-day Opeth and Enslaved at points, two bands who, like Ephel Duath themselves, grew from black metal seeds in the 1990s and flowered out into something altogether more idiosyncratic and skewed. There are no actual songs as such on "Pain Necessary To Know", just forty-odd minutes of atonal guitar slashes and difficult, halting rhythms divided up almost arbitrarily into nine complex, fragmented tracks. The musicianship is uniformly excellent, with impressive levels of versatility on show. Clearly, Ephel Duath are masters of their craft. Raw metal passages break into demented jazz workouts without warning, to intentionally jarring effect. The natural and warm-sounding production captures every nuance as the guitar and bass weave intricate patterns around each other and the stop-start drums wrong-foot the listener. The vocals are a relatively passive presence, and take the form of a high-pitched, scorched-throat shouting. No lyric sheet was included with my promo copy of the album, but song titles such as 'Crystalline Whirl' and 'Vector, second movement' suggest that the lyrics are as complicated and twisted as the music they accompany.

So why haven't I given this album a higher rating? Because, while the talent, originality and commitment of Ephel Duath is beyond question, I'm afraid "Pain Necessary To Know" does not resonate as deeply with me as the band's output obviously does with so many others. This is music that I appreciate rather than feel in my bones, although I realise that I'm very much in the minority here. I don't doubt that this album will be the aural highlight of the year for some folk, and if you're one of the thousands whose world was changed by "The Painter's Palette" then you'll certainly adore this new CD. It's just not really to my taste, but hey, what do I know, anyway?