Abyss In B minor is a dark album title indeed – doubly so when you learn that Serena-Maneesh’s second album was recorded in a cave. True to its promise, it starts off in said key, doom laden and nearly buckling under the weight of its own stupefyingly heavy guitars.
The only way is up, surely – and so it proves. I Just Want To See Your Face breezes in as if poking its head out of the cave, getting a dazzling burst of the morning sun in the process, like that bit at the end of The Descent. And from there on you feel like the band have purged their demons and are spoiling for a fight.
The Oslo band bring with them a big sound – massive at times – and an ambitious approach, qualified by such lofty titles as Magdalena (Symphony #8) and Blow Yr Brains In The Morning Rain. No quarter is given, no stone left unturned as they throw everything they have at their music, typified by the hell for leather drumming on Reprobate! and the rapid harmonic movement of D.I.W.S.W.T.T.D.
Yet despite the obvious, total commitment of the band, there are several elements missing. Emil Nikolaisen’s vocals are too far back in the mix, swamped by swathes of guitar on much of the faster music, and only getting a chance to show their beauty in slower torch burners such as Melody For Jaama, by which time the damage has been done.
The album as a whole feels lopsided, too. Its outer edges are big, aircraft hanger structures, but the inner songs are too slight of form, too short on substance, to leave a lasting impact. Add to that a massive wall of distortion, which works a treat for the likes of Dinosaur Jr or Engineers but is less effective here, and you have a disjointed record that doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.
There are standout moments of beauty in the sound they make – usually when pausing to gaze upon the full sun – but these reveries are the exception rather than the rule, and just as the listener is absorbing them, along comes a guitar to wrench them away. Fleetingly brilliant, but ultimately frustrating.