A key phrase by which many black metal bands operate is “less is more.” The idea that a piece of music is at its best when it’s as simple and stripped-down as it can possibly be is a common belief in the black metal community, but unfortunately, as with the untitled debut album from Terra, less can sometimes be too little, especially in a genre like black metal, where experimentation is necessary to stand out.
Terra’s trade is in a tried-and-true style of simple, minimalistic, atmospheric black metal. The trailblazers of the genres- bands like Wolves In The Throne Room, Ulver, and Weakling stand tall as titans of the atmospherically-oriented brand of black metal. As a band, Terra are an apple that doesn’t fall far from the trees of the greats at all, and this is a double-edged sword: while these are definitely good bands to be influenced by, and following in their footsteps does lead to a well-written black metal album, the closeness of Terra to these bands leads them to be constantly overshadowed by their obvious influences.
Terra faces some definite issues on this record, borne mostly out of how close they come to the innovators of the genre. This album is not by any means far removed from the nature of Wolves In The Throne Room or Weakling. In fact, this record could be presumed to be a new release from either of those bands, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. The combination of naturalistic elements and straightforward, precise, atmospheric black metal definitely has been proven to work, and has led to good releases time and time again. It’s hard not to enjoy this combination purely for what it is, and Terra pulls it off better than a lot of imitators.
But on the other hand, this album brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It is a paint-by-numbers atmospheric black metal album, and that comes with both upsides and downsides. Honestly, though, at this point, an album that is this standard, that contributes absolutely nothing to the advancement of the genre as a whole, has far more negatives than positives. It’s 2015- we already know how an atmospheric black metal album should sound, give us something new, something different, something exciting! Everything good and bad about atmospheric black metal is in this album, but, by this point, there have been enough bands that do the good stuff without doing the bad stuff that this album is unnecessary and, at times, regressive.
The album does, however, present itself in an enigmatic way: no title, three tracks named “I”, “II”, and “III”, respectively, and production that obscures the vocals, hiding them in a hazy cloud of tremolo picking and blast beats. This mysterious nature adds a bit of wonder to the record, which serves to pique the listener’s interest- without any titles or outside stimulus for guidance, the audience must take away their own meaning from the record, and it’s yet another way that Terra support the “less is more” ideology that essentially gives birth to the nature of this record. In this way, they distance themselves from their peers and force the audience to reconsider their nature as band. Unfortunately, this only works for a second or two- once the listener accepts the essence of the album, it’s back to the same grind (metaphorically, of course- this is a black metal album) as before.
The problem with Terra is that they just don’t get far enough away from any of the big bands of this genre. Across the whole record, they constantly beg comparison to the genre’s trailblazers- bands that came 10 to 20 years before them- in a way that elucidates flaws while obscuring their strengths. Nothing here is new. In their defense, their songwriting lands them among the better of their peers, but even then, they get stuck in the inherent pitfalls of the genre. Their sound is absolutely nowhere close to outside of the norms, and while this makes the album enjoyable for what it is, it only serves to make them even more comparable to the best in the genre- something that ultimately ends up taking away from the album immensely. Terra creates emotive black metal here, filled with lush soundscapes and mystery, but unfortunately, because of how close they stick to a frequently-trodden path, they end up being totally overshadowed by their betters.
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Terra’s Untitled gets…