The Laniakea Architecture Vol.II by As Light DiesRelease date: March 9, 2023
“Start with your best foot forward.” No-one likes hackneyed advice but it’s hard to argue with the fact that cliches are often right, and that’s definitely the case with ‘Falling Apart’. As the opener on As Light Dies’ first studio full-length since 2014’s The Love Album Vol.I, there was evidently a push to show just how far they had developed in the preceding years and so it comes in hard. Really hard. ‘Falling Apart’ is a savage assault that blends the jagged, almost mechanical crunch of technical death metal with black metal’s feral, screeching vocalisms, yet within minutes the unpredictability of old shows its face. Juddering, stop-start riffing segues into woozy harmonies evoking a dreamworld too bizarre, too uncanny to be heaven or hell.
While ‘Falling Apart’ veers from vicious highs to more sedate lulls, the transitions of ‘La Ascension’ are more subtle and evenly paced. There’s a strong focus on building emotional and musical hooks, the screeches gone in favour of brooding clean vocals backed by flutters of violins; it’s still a resolutely metal composition, the guttural growls and brash, technical drumming making for a weighty listen, even if you won’t be headbanging to it any time soon. The difference is that the gradation between extremes is less jarring, instead seesawing gently between melancholy and rage.
This sense of balance is not just executed within The Laniakea Architecture’s compositions but also within the structure of the record as a whole. Each longer piece is interspersed with a shorter, typically instrumental number that serves as both palate-cleanser and as a chance to demonstrate more of the collective’s impressive range. Though the brief medieval folk of ‘Esus Agápē’ is a striking insert ‘Celephais’, a slice of gothic melodrama narrated by Alberto Martinez (of the Noviembre Nocturno podcast), strangely ends up being one of the album’s most memorable moments.
It’s on the album’s longer compositions that the brilliance shines through, but also where the cracks start to form. Put simply, there isn’t a single song that doesn’t contain some moment that will stick with the listener long after it ends yet these fragments of brilliance often feel fractured, existing as a separate entity outside of the song as a whole. ‘La Ascensión’ starts off with a sizzling riff that harks back to Ved Buens Ende’s skewed ferocity but as it shifts into gothic doom territory, all lush strings and blissful vocal harmonies, that earlier thread is abandoned entirely. ‘The Green’ adopts a similar approach, but again there is that disconnect that is jarring if not approached with the right mindset. The cumulative effect of this approach is that while it’s difficult to fault the execution, the record as a whole can occasionally be a frustrating listen, never quite holding onto a thread long enough to fully develop it.
Thankfully, even if this could be criticised to be a record of disparate sounds, none are ever executed with anything less than finesse. The musicianship is absolutely flawless and with so many differing styles, tones and tempos occurring within relatively brief moments of time, that achievement is doubly impressive. Vocals span muttered litanies, soaring melodicism, guttural roars and a strangely alien bark; violins evoke quaint old-world folk and gothic melodrama; even the production is remarkably fluid, fully pulling the listener into sorrow and fury with equal ease. The only drawback is that just as you are drawn in, you are yanked back out a moment later.
There is no denying that As Light Dies are musical chameleons. They have demonstrated that throughout their career, and with Laniakea… they have pushed their ambition and skill to its very limit. It’s not going to be for everyone’s tastes but for those among you who remember avidly browsing Avantgarde-Metal.com, trying to find the next band who would tear up metal’s rulebook and forge their own strange, twisty-turny path, there’s a good chance that this will be exactly what you’ve been craving.