Misanthur - Ephemeris (Album Review)

Oct. 18, 2021


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When it comes to modern Polish black metal, one element that often ties bands together is a grittier, urban tone.  No matter what wide range of influences bands pull in, there’s something about those from Poland that nail that bleak and chaotic feeling of everyday life, and this holds true of MisanthurMisanthur is a duo that’s been around since 2015 and released a demo and split, but for most people their first exposure will be this year’s Ephemeris full-length.  Rooted in black metal yet pulling from a fairly broad range of darker musical styles, this is a there’s a lot to take in throughout Ephemeris’ almost hour-long run, and while it may take a little while to put all the pieces together the effort proves to be worth it.

Right from the start it’s clear that you’re in for an album that leans a bit more towards the atmospheric and post black metal sides of the spectrums, though the instrumentals aren’t afraid to delve into some more straightforward blasting when necessary.  Opener “Enter the Void” starts off with the twisted tonality of black metal, but the bass lines and stripped-down drumming have a bit more of a gothic rock/post punk vibe with some sludge/doom added in for a good measure before some jazzier sections lead into a wall of blasting.  With most songs clocking in between six and nine minutes, Misanthur changes gears regularly while still maintaining that utterly bleak and hopeless feeling atmosphere, and while there are a lot of passages that are unexpected the pieces start to make sense the more time you have to spend with Ephemeris.  In addition to the aforementioned genres, other songs on the album channel depressive black metal, post rock, and even some trip-hop and electronica on the beat driven “Essence”.  Moments like this put Misanthur in good company with labelmates like Autarkh, and it’s impressive how the songwriting can go from this more electronic oriented direction to pummeling Mgła like black metal on “Black Clouds & No Silver Linings”.  The production gives the bass a considerable amount of focus, and the weight of the bass lines combined with the dreamier qualities of the guitar and result in an album that one can get lost in.  However, while the duo has put together a very polished and ambitious first effort, I did find that the songwriting started to feel a bit overstretched by the end.  The last three tracks in particular emphasize slower tempos and started to drag, ultimately being overshadowed by the preceding five.

While black metal bands of this type usually aren’t afraid to explore a wide range of musical styles, they sometimes still use the typical screams or growls you’d expect from the genre for an entire album.  This is where Misanthur grabbed my attention initially, as the aforementioned opener “Enter the Void” begins with moodier clean singing that gives way to harsher growls.  There are songs where they go full-on black metal and let higher shrieks and screams take over for a more chaotic and aggressive sound, but the use of singing and spoken word helps the material to feel more dynamic and captures some more of those non-metal influences.  “Essence” brings in guest singer Agnieszka Leciak for what is one of the album’s clear highlights, and her ethereal vocal range is sure to make this track capture a wide range of listeners. 

Misanthur has channeled that same bleak and gritty tone as many of their fellow countrymen, but their moves into some gothic rock and even trip hop directions help to set their debut apart.  There is room for them to further twist the black metal script as they progress and a bit of trimming wouldn’t hurt as some of the later tracks do drag.  But I suspect that even with that being the case the band will still find an audience willing to dive into everything they have to offer, and I’ll be keeping an eye on what they do next.  Ephemeris is available from Season of Mist Underground Activists.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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