neànder combines traditional post-rock song structure with doom metal atmosphere. While there is a spark of originality to their debut album, the band errs on the side of imitation over experimentation.
I have a weird anxiety about reviewing debut albums. That’s probably not fair of me to say, considering I’ve never made one of my own. But debut albums can be challenging to discuss because there’s rarely any other work that the artist has released to be used as a comparison. Unfortunately, I think neànder alleviates that issue for me by relying heavily on other artists for inspiration. And on a debut album, that’s a pretty normal problem. Granted, I do enjoy the self-titled record, but there are flaws that I must bring to light.
The album is off to a good start with the opening track, “Khàpra”. A kind of simple, galloping intro begins the song as the guitarist tries to pack as much atmosphere through the speakers as he can. The slow, black metal riffage is okay if a bit sparse in melody. The Black Sabbath influence comes through around three-and-a-half minutes in after melting and building into a This Will Destroy You-type post-rock crescendo. The whole nine minutes makes for a solid opening statement, but what’s next?
“Thũjen” snaps to life with crushing detuned guitar and bass hits. The building neànder begins seems kind of cookie-cutter to me. I think the band is trying to fill up a lot of space with few instruments, which is where some stronger leads or melodies would come in handy. The finale at the six-minute mark is definitely an improvement, however, as the band contrasts auditory shimmering with a suffocating prog riff. At the very least, I’m glad they stuck the landing.
The band takes a moment to attract the stoners with the plodding beginning of “Aăs”. I like the energy the band musters, but there’s no real melody to speak of. I headbang to the song, but it feels lacking like I’m missing something. Granted, there’s a great use of sonic space going on within “Aăs”, but neànder needs to explore the musical scale.
The closing track on the album is “Møder”. I like the big Niel Peart drums that neànder starts the track with. The guitars and bass, on the other hand, still feel somewhat ham-fisted, especially at such a slow pace. Around four-and-a-half minutes, the melody sounds… quite familiar to me. Where have I heard that line before…? Oh right, it sounds just like the halfway point of “Providence” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It’s fleeting, yes, but I’d recognize that tremelo-picked melody anywhere.
I want to like neànder. I really do. As an album, it has a lot of the elements that I normally crave in stoner-type stuff: excellent use of atmosphere, echoing drums, bone-grinding riffs. But what it lacks might be more important than any of those things: a sense of direction. The record feels like an empty cargo train grinding ceaselessly against the dirt, having fallen off the tracks: it just doesn’t deliver. I dunno, maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic. Kerry McCoy of Deafheaven would probably tell you that he’s not exactly the most technical guy on the axe. But at least he can throw in as much melody and sonic diversity as he can drone and atmosphere.
What’s disappointing here is the lack of staying power that the album has in my mind. Sure, the riffs are gritty and proggy. I remember listening to them and enjoying them, but I couldn’t reproduce them. Melody (I know I’m using this word a lot) is that thing that keeps the song sticking in your head years after first hearing it. It’s what often keeps me coming back. And again, this is neànder‘s first musical project. I’m not necessarily expecting the band to release something as groundbreaking as Sunbather. I guess all I’m asking for is some melody, some musical guidance. I want to know where this train is headed, or at least be able to see the tracks going somewhere.