Close your eyes for a moment (for the purposes of reading this review don’t actually do this right now). Imagine a landscape in front of you that is beyond obliterated. There is nothing within your vision that is not rubble, smoke, ash, and bones. Everything appears to be in monochrome; the color has simply been sucked out, leaving behind a field of gray. Now imagine yourself wandering through this decimated hellscape. What does it sound like? Probably not much other than the wind, but imagine what music and sounds would be appropriate for this situation. If you are reading this review, it’s quite likely you would imagine something instrumentally heavy, probably some cinematic post-rock or metal. Cinematic post-metal evokes this kind of imagery frequently due to its ability to create full aural immersion through atmosphere and use of time. Compositions build, explode, and retract repeatedly, revealing a sense of unimaginable ferocity and destruction followed by invoking a sense of what’s left behind when the carnage is through.
There are two bands within this oeuvre who, while taking somewhat different sonic approaches in this music, are masters of evoking aural imagery of destruction, ruin, and the sense of nothingness left behind: Russian Circles and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. At their best, listening to their albums is transportive, creating such strong senses of place and time that you can practically reach out and touch them. The music is thick, saturated with emotion and texture, crafting layers and layers of reverb, sludge, pounding percussion, and soaring riffs and melodies. There are a collection of bands who are able to do this with such stunning proficiency and creativity, but these two are considered by many to be the pinnacles of their respective styles for a reason. If Gehenna, the new LP from Brazilian post-metal group Labirinto and first full-length since 2010, is any indication though, it’s time to add a new name in league with the best, especially as the band so perfectly straddle the line between the crushing fury of Russian Circles and the heart-wrenching cinematic perfection of GY!BE.
Though Gehenna is far more than just a Russian Circles clone, it is also by far some of the best work out there that hits upon the classic RC sound. The album is absolutely flooded with examples of this at work, as guitars so thick you can almost chew on the sludge coming off of them pummel the listener with an onslaught of piercing riffs, frequent modulation—the sudden descending chord progressions that create the sense of the bottom dropping out for the listener and are a fixture in RC’s music are well on display here—and sustained melodies floating just above the fray. And though the drumwork perhaps doesn’t reach Dave Turncrantz levels of insanity, it more than holds its own to match everything else going on. Tracks like “Enoch,” “Aung Suu,” “Avernus,” “Alamut,” and “Q’yth-El” would give many of the best tracks from that band and the countless others working within that vein of post-metal a serious run for their money. The level of consistency present while avoiding repeating themselves and simply hitting the same kind of heaviness over and over again is truly impressive.
Labirinto’s grasp of incorporating atmosphere and different emotional tones also plays a key component to why all of this works so well. Contrasting those heavier tracks are several pieces and moments where the band are perfectly able to pull back and give the listener a moment to take in everything that just happened. “Locrus” is the first major break, and after the first four tracks it’s a well-earned and needed piece of solemn reflection, though even then it’s shortlived as midway tribal-like percussion and those wraith-like sludgy guitars re-enter, ratcheting up the sense of dread and tension even further before bringing back the destruction in full force on “Avernus.” The sweetly mournful “Aludra,” sandwiched in between “Avernus” and “Alamut” is the necessary connective tissue that forms one of the most formidable stretches of Gehenna, and the final title track is simply in a league of its own that manages to be the emotionally heaviest moment of the entire album despite being one of its softest tracks.
At this point we need to talk about the secret weapon up Labirinto’s sleeves that push them well beyond being just another band that does heavy, guitar-centric instrumental post-metal very well. Like the aforementioned GY!BE, the band also know how to bring in strings at just the right moments to ratchet up the emotional stakes. We get our first taste of them in “Locrus,” but it’s in “Alundra” where they really come into play. The violins are not overwhelming or too saccharine as they can so often be in this kind of music, but instead they hit just the right sense of building something far bigger and grander through adding depth and dimension to the world the band have constructed. They are the splashes of warmth and color that appear so striking on the monochromatic backdrop of the rest of the album.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on “Gehenna,” as what appears to be a song building up to the heaviest climax of the entire album instead gives way to an utterly tear-jerking guitar melody that does not get louder as much as filled out with the support of strings in its last few minutes. It’s the kind of grandiosity and beauty that GY!BE have dealt in for years – and other bands like So Hideous have successfully put their own spin on more recently – but it manages to feel completely fresh and unique to them in part because it’s employed sparingly. The band could have easily doused the entire album in strings and made it far more epic for it, but only using it for key moments is an act of great restraint that only works to their benefit.
At an hour runtime, Gehenna can be a bit of a formidable listen at first blush, but the entire album is structured and blended together so well that one cannot help but lose themselves in it until that hour is up. What we’re left with is an album in February—the band officially released it last September but it is being re-issued through Pelagic Records this month—that should by all means end up being one of the best post-metal releases of the year and set an incredibly high bar for other albums to come. Pelagic have landed themselves an absolute gem in signing Labirinto, and it’s hopefully a relationship that will allow the band to continue to grow and explore. Post-metal needs more albums like this, and we cannot wait to see where they go from here.
Gehenna will be available for purchase through Pelagic Records on February 10. You can pre-order the 2LP + digital download package from them here.