When we think of old-school Norwegian black metal, typically we are referring to the necro sound of early Darkthrone, Mayhem and others. It’s easy to forget that over two decades ago, much of that scene had already began incorporating a much wider sound palette into their world. Enslaved turned to psychedelia as a major influence, Mayhem pulled industrial music into their sound and newer bands such as …And Oceans, Solefald and Winds really began turning the idea of black metal inside out. Death metal experienced its own evolution early in its history as well, with Death, Cynic, Pestilence and Nocturnus all taking the reins in turn, in the name of musical advancement. It’s the progressive turn of these genres that seems to fuel the imagination of the U.S.-based project Azure Emote, whose new full-length The Third Perspective is out this week, courtesy of Selfmadegod Records.

Azure Emote is the brainchild of vocalist/composer Mike Hrubovcak (Monstrosity, Vile) who also provides the artwork, and Ryan Moll (Rumpelstiltskin Grinder, Total Fucking Destruction) on guitars, plus a slew of guest musicians who help to bring their wildly eclectic vision to life. As on their previous two albums, this cast of characters is considerable but necessary given the number of instruments that are utilized. These include the prolific Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Corrections House) on saxophone; Pete Johansen, whose violin work is featured prominently; and many others, including operatic vocalists, a keytarist and electronic programmers.

Unlike its predecessor The Gravity of Impermanence, which came ripping out of the gates, The Third Perspective begins at a measured pace. “Loss” starts by blending electronica with death metal drumming and moments later, clean female vocals appear. Eventually, the heavy guitars and growled vocals also join the fray. Yet when the guitar meets blasting drums in a blazing black metal riff, the sound is more soaring then brutal. It’s not that it isn’t heavy, but the desired effect is different. The song almost feels like an introduction to the headspace for the album as a whole, somehow urgent yet contemplative.

“Curse of Life” leans more toward death metal, but the other elements are present in full force. Johansen’s violin in particular is prominent. Unlike Dawn Ray’d, who utilize the instrument to tie their brand of black metal into a folkish lineage, the sound here hints more at a Jean-Luc Ponty-inspired fusion approach. Other elements, such as the quick percussive breaks, also point to a Mahavishnu Orchestra influence floating around the periphery of the band as well. The synth work on all the tracks, but “Dark Realms” in particular, seems to split the difference between Borknagar and Nektar.

“Negative Polarity” utilizes an interesting rhythmic interplay before heading into more symphonic passages. There is a sense of watching the Earth dying from the vantage point of the moon. There’s a striking passage where the violin solos over a piano, and is then joined in by some excellent guitar shredding. The operatic vocals duet with the death growls. The syncopated death metal riffs are then joined by a blackened but melodic guitar line. The whole thing is almost too much, a maximalist aesthetic at work, but Azure Emote manages to pull it off. “Three Six Nine” is more of the same, in the best way possible. It is the closest thing to a traditional death metal song on the album, but it is far from orthodox. The blazing guitar work seems to be locked in a desperate battle with the more progressive elements, and if they seem at odds, it only adds to the enthralling drama.

The eleven-minute “Solitary Striving” closes the album and is a more meditative piece. The sound palette consists mostly of acoustic guitar, soft vocals, and the violin. There are also the sounds of rainfall and psychedelic synth squiggles. Slowly, a more metallic guitar begins to nestle itself within the existing structure. Finally, around the six-minute mark they almost seem to reach a point of full metal onslaught, yet there is a restraint that allows every part of the song to sound perfectly integrated into the whole. The song eventually winds down again, closing with acoustic guitar and sampled speech, and then nothing but the sounds of a storm fading away.

Many may not realize the experimental streak that has long run through the history of extreme metal, but for the initiated, it’s always been there. Azure Emote is a prime example of how masterful such ambitious musicians have gotten at integrating such disparate elements into a cohesive whole. The Third Perspective overflows with ideas, to the point that in lesser hands, it would be the album’s downfall. But in the hands of Hrubovcak, Moll and company, it is a resounding success, and one that deserves repeated and deep listening.

Todd Manning

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