A simple truth of life is that we, as humans, do not need forms of art or entertainment that challenge us to think outside the box 24/7. There’s value to be had in a product that doesn’t feel the need to shift or challenge the audience’s paradigms; an album that sticks to a tried-and-true formula but does it well can be a refreshing change of pace at times in some genres where the focus is much more on pushing the envelope. Not everything has to be some new auditory equivalent of molecular gastronomy; sometimes we as listeners just want a simple and familiar ‘meal’.
That being said, there’s another side to this coin, summed up in the phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt”: when listening to something that does not push our horizons or try something new, it becomes all too easy to reject it on the grounds that it’s “just a worse version” of a different album. A balancing act is necessary when creating an album that isn’t a completely new experience: the writer(s) must find a way to create a product that is fresh and unique, while still offering something familiar. It’s an incredibly hard task to synthesize music that straddles that line between being easily digestible yet still its own.
On their sophomore album, The Golden Veil, MAKE balances perfectly on this line, offering up post-metal that will be a familiar experience to anyone who knows the genre, yet still presents enough new material and ideas to stand out amidst a crowd similar acts.
The way MAKE’s formula works is to expand their musical horizons a bit beyond the typical stylings of post-metal, while also sticking to the tried-and-true nature of bands like ISIS and, more recently, Vattnet Viskar: throwing in some drone and almost-folk black metal riffs, a la Saor, the group switches up some of the traditional post-metal sound and replaces it with their own, albeit similar and not unheard-of in post-metal, ideas. The foreboding four-minute opener, “I Was Sitting Quietly, Peeling Back My Skin” is a fantastic example of this. Starting with an ambient, almost field-recordings-esque sound, and then breaking down into harsh, static-laden drone, the track builds itself back up into a grim and naturalist acoustic guitar section that sets the album’s tone perfectly. The journey continues with the end of the intro bleeding into one of the album’s standout songs, the fantastic “Breathe”, an 8-minute blackened sludgy post-metal track that showcases just what The Golden Veil has going for it: smart riffing, a strong sense of progression and melody, and a vocal performance that’s far and away one of the best in the genre. Deep and surging with power, the harsh vocals help push and pull the tracks wherever they may go. Later, when the cleans come in, they add beautiful touches of melodic atmosphere to the already lush soundscapes. MAKE’s grasp of melody and progression are their strengths; even when playing within the confines of the genre’s standards, they carry an aura of strong, smart songwriting.
The other half of this is that at times, The Golden Veil sounds just like any other post-metal record. Of course, it’s a genre built on a pretty formulaic approach, so this makes sense, but most standout post-metal albums, such as (to reuse the example of ISIS) Panopticon, have a sense of emotional weight that lends them a different timbre than others. Not so here; MAKE sounds highly average in their clean sections, and these ambient parts are easily the record’s weakest link. Are they well-written? Yes, they’re smartly composed, so this isn’t hugely detrimental, but at times one must check if they’re still listening to the same album. The ambient bits carry no specific idiosyncrasies that the greats of the genre have in their similar parts.
All in all, for any fan of post-metal as a genre, this is a great album to check out. Inspired equally by artists from all over the post-metal spectrum, MAKE pulls many musical threads together into a fantastic auditory tapestry. Evocative and lush, both instrumentally and vocally, this is highly recommended for those curious about this year’s post-metal output.