To set things straight right from the start, Amenra isn’t just a band, and being referred to as such within this review and elsewhere is only due to the term’s convenience and overall comprehensibility. Amenra is a collective of musicians whose existence stretches beyond the boundaries of music in its standard form, and hence can’t be described with any single tag. They are an aural and visual phenomenon with a nothing short of a cult-like appearance and fanbase, in only the most positive senses of the word. Amenra is an experience like no other.
Amenra are known for their massive live shows, being able to invoke a deafening wall of sound all the while conveying it all through heartfelt emotion. It’s a simultaneously suffocating and relieving experience, as if you were caught in the middle of an exorcism with no clear beginning or ending, but somehow enjoying the inexplicable event unveiling all around you. Their studio recordings, however, posses a different kind of power, and albeit being equally purifying, their captured form is more restricted in that setting. I should add that this is not a jab at anyone as much as it is myself stating the obvious. But still, while their recordings have stayed on a permanent rotation in this household, I’ve still pondered at times whether or not it’d be possible to introduce that certain meta-level energy into them that’s so pervasive during their live shows. And that is exactly where De Doorn comes into picture.
The act’s Relapse debut was initially composed for two live events titled Fire Ritual, which saw the band performing the songs around wooden structures set on fire, in a setting meant to rid its attendees of all their inner evils and the things weighing them down for good. The songs, performed entirely in Flemish, feature vocals from Caro Tanghe of Oathbreaker fame alongside Amenra‘s own Colin H. van Eeckhout; initially designed solely for these occasions, they had such strength in them that the band continued to work on them, eventually shaping them into a form where they’d be apt for an album but would still express their original intensity and the idea behind the compositions. Listening to the album now, I’d say that the decision to produce De Doorn out of those songs will be, one way or another, marked in the books of history.
You see, on De Doorn, Amenra exists in newfound state of genuineness, possibly because of the utilization of their native tongue in their output, or due to the album being written with the focus lying elsewhere than on the standard album format. Maybe it’s a concoction of the two, with additional aspects like Tanghe’s guest vocals or the narrative-esque approach to the entirety thrown into the mix. On De Doorn, Amenra are an immense entity, an incredibly engulfing being that sounds more massive than ever before in the context of studio recordings. The act has always embraced dynamics as an integral part of their essence through both songwriting and production, and this time around, the spectrum feels wider and more comprehensive than before.
Amenra has always taken their sweet time within their music, slowly building the atmosphere and placing emphasis on crescendo-esque passages, so it isn’t surprising that opening track “Ogentroost” takes over four minutes before fully kicking in. The humming low swells turn into near-static before a haunting guitar lead seeps in to direct the textured ambiance, and soon you’re fully submerged in the band’s dismal signature mishmash of sludge and post-metal viewed through a doom-paced lens. The song also introduces the kind of profound evil vibe that I felt was missing from their previous albums Mass V and VI very early on, an aspect that flourished on Mass IV, which has been an unparalleled highlight in the band’s discography for me. However, De Doorn seems to threaten that particular album’s position in my mental charts, but only time will tell how it pans out. Either way, “Ogentroost” is a leviathan-like opener, which also features what I believe is the best single riff/part in all of Amenra‘s career, ringing in around the seven minute mark.
The opener flows straight into the second track, “De Dood In Bloei”, which shifts the focus to the aforementioned dynamics, it being a shorter song that feels like it’s designed to be a bridge between the longer tracks. Solely consisting of spoken word and overwhelming ambient echoes, its intensity is of the kind of caliber that just makes you stop in your tracks, either out of curiosity or awe. The third track and first single cut “De Evenmens” features Tanghe in a significant position, and is perhaps the most habitual song out of the five that constitute De Doorn. That doesn’t lessen its impact at all, though, as it’s a perfect example of a band showcasing their capabilities and how they can be as experimental or conventional as they want to and somehow always excel at it. Eeckhout’s clean vocals towards the end are also a sonic sight to behold; you can truly sense how choosing to go with their mother tongue brought a tremendous amount of additional depth to Amenra‘s execution.
“Het Gloren” is a sullen ode to growth and overcoming, and the lyrical content resonates throughout the instrumentation as well. The song is an ever-advancing mammoth that seeks character and hooks from very simple wiles before arriving to a halt, and starting all over again. A spoken narrative slowly gathers clean guitar melodies around it, introducing a calm bass and muted drums, and eventually explodes into a mighty outro passage, towering in abrasive but tangible emotion, carried out by Tanghe’s agonizing screams, digging deep under your skin. “Het Gloren” is in a pivotal position in the context of the album, paving way for the imminent culmination awaiting in the form of “Voor Immer”.
Said closer returns to similar realms as the first tracks, drawing out the blood-soaked but cleansing ouroboros that is De Doorn. Earlier on I mentioned the band taking their sweet time to arrive at their destination, and “Voor Immer” is another perfect example of that; we’re embraced by over eight minutes of gentle and vibrant storytelling that carries tremendous emotional burden with minimal instrumentation behind it, and the crescendo goes on and on until the final, pulverizing maneuver kicks in from nowhere. A completely fuzzed-out string department topped with a plaintive melody, screaming, and a marching drum beat round out the ensemble before the song reaches its deserved ending, leaving the listener motionless in a languid but satisfied state.
However unbelievable it may sound, on De Doorn, Amenra present themselves in their most versatile, striking, and glorious form yet. Even though it’d be possible to sum up the reasons why in understandable terms, as I tried to do above, it all still boils down to an insoluble blend of fire, soul, and emotion that, despite making up the album, can’t be properly explained by myself (or anyone else for that matter). The band’s inventiveness holds no bounds or self-inflicted restrictions, and I can easily see the album not only landing on a plethora of top charts this year, but also turning out to be a favourite amongst their listeners for many, many years to come. De Doorn is something I couldn’t possibly have prepared or hoped for prior to hearing it, and that is an amazing feeling to have towards a band that has more or less been a staple amongst their genre for over twenty years. For all I can say, they have absolutely no intentions to give up that position.