“Arresting” is a word which should be used for music more often. That is just a convoluted way of saying that I wish more music was arresting. Since music accompanies me pretty much during everything I do, there’s a tendency for even some of the best stuff out there to play second fiddle, pun quite intended. “Arresting” is not really about quality though excellent music tends to have it; shockingly terrible stuff can also be arresting, in the sense that it makes you stop whatever you’re doing and cringe as hard as you can. But that is, of course, not the type of arresting I would wish more of upon the world. Rather, I’m talking of great music which has an added quality to it; whether it is because of its innovation, its production, or its lyrical content (to name only a few things which could be arresting about music), it reaches out and grabs you when you’re listening, demanding your attention.
Perhaps it’s easier to give an example of this quality than to describe it. We could much worse than looking at Exulansis for our example. Their latest release, Sequestered Sympathy, is a rich and definitely arresting journey through doom and black metal. Many things make this release so attention-hungry. First, there’s the structures of the tracks themselves. Dividing their time between bottomless doom riffs, skin-flaying black metal caustic acidity, and heart-wrenching, beautiful acoustic passages, Exulansis evoke such diverse names as Winterfylleth, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Falls of Rauros. But much more than just being a carbon copy, the mix of these elements on Sequestered Sympathy creates something truly unique. It’s hard to pin down but it’s something in the that everything flows together, feeling like a conversation rather than sentences shouted, alone, into the night.
Perhaps it’s because the violinist is a full time member of the band. This means that the violin is featured heavily on the album instead of just scattered as a counterpoint to the rest of the instruments. Whether is is operating in a lead capacity, like on “Barren”, the second track, or if it’s supporting the heavier elements on the album, the violin feels rich and thought out. In fact, the entire “folk” or acoustic layer on the album is very well made, interacting with the black metal elements (in a way which will remind you of all the above cited bands) but also with the doom metal influences. In fact, the distinction between the genres and their intersection is perhaps a bit moot in the face of such a well put together album. Check out “Despondent” for example, the third track. The pace is certainly doom metal and there’s those violins swimming in the background, etching a dirge to fit the mood of the track. But the vocals are very much black metal, as is the creeping sense of dreadful energy that possesses other parts of the track, painting a great contrast with the deeper vocals, that remind us of Ahab.
Exulansis aren’t satisfied with “just” performing every part of their album well. Instead, the band insist on also nailing down how things come together and that is, perhaps, where the “arresting” quality comes in; it’s not just that the music is great, it’s that it works so well together that you’re left somewhat in awe. Your ear is “forced” to try and parse everything happening at once, unraveling the threads which Exulansis have so expertly thrown together. Whatever the case may be, it’s undeniable that Sequestered Sympathy feels special; it’s definitely steeped in many metal traditions and it’s not exactly the case that it breaks those traditions or innovates greatly on their tropes. But something in the dedication to all the disparate elements, in the excellently composed violin, in the ever-shifting and contrasting vocals, in the mood conjured so easily, that just reaches out and grabs you. Or, at least, it has me. I invite you to take some time and dive into this album; I think you’ll find much to enjoy here.
Sequestered Sympathy was released on October 4th. Head on over to the (independent) band’s Bandcamp above to grab it. Buy a shirt while you’re at it.