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Aspercrucio : Мёртвая вода

With broad-spectrum Gothic that mostly aims at Doom, Aspercrucio's debut is a respectable one.

I've been struggling a bit with Aspercrucio's debut ('Мёртвая вода/Dead Water'), on and off, for a little while now, trying to decide exactly what to make of its somewhat Gothic-hybrid sound. The five-piece Russian band, from Kurgan - near the Kazakhstani border - make use of a certain amount of pomp and bombast, though not enough to mark them as what Gothic Metal has become these days, a fair bit of bass-driven bounce and swagger, equally, not enough to mark them as a Gothic Rock act, and a reasonable chunk of heavy melodic riffing and - less melodic - growling, which finally swings them into the Gothic Doom camp. Sound-wise, if you mixed up some latterday Lacrimas Profundere and 'e-mania'/'.enetics'-period EverEve with now-defunct Russian Autumn, you wouldn't be far off covering the range of elements Aspercrucio include.

Dark East/Mercy Despise - from parent label Nihil Arts - have done a nice job of presenting this package, the substantial booklet packed with suitably-sombre pictures of some stern-looking band members, the cover artwork on the not-unpopular 'drowned girl' theme. Lyrics, sadly, only come in attractive but not desperately legible Cyrillic, but at least the information, credits and titles have been helpfully given an English translation as well.

Both guitarists share vocal duties, the remaining band members contributing bass, drums and keyboards, the latter alternating primary melody lines with the lead guitar. It makes for quite a nice combination: the bass and rhythm elements providing a decently crunchy, chugging spine over which the other instruments can duel in ways that sometimes even touch on My Dying Bride sort of territory (such as in 'Разбитое сердце/Broken Heart'), though the keyboard and guitar leads quite often up the tempo to a chirpier Rock/Metal gallop. Overall, though, it is heavier and doomier than you might initially think, especially when the band decide to let loose with the massive, sprawling and quite progressive 17-minute album closer, 'Тишина... отчаяние/Silence...Despair', which definitely saves the best until last.

Where I've been struggling most, though, is in trying to decide how much I actually like the album, and - if so - whether it's for its Doom qualities, or simply because I'm a bit of a sucker for anything with a Gothic tag. Taking the first point, mainly, what puts me off is the vocals: the female backing voices (provided variously by keyboardist Natalia and guest Marina) are fine, but neither male contributor offers much in the way of inspiration. The clean parts err on the side of monotone and underwhelming, while the growls are far too frequently a phlegmy, forced-sounding bellow that favours volume over finesse or variation. It doesn't help that the singing is all in Russian: there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that (bands like Autumn People, or Revelations Of Rain manage perfectly well), but the lack of understandable lyrics does mean there's nothing to distract from any perceived weakness in the vocal performance.

That said, I do love the massiveness of 'Тишина...' enough to forgive many of the interesting, if flawed, themes explored in earlier pieces. And as this track occupies over a third of the album, it's worth pointing out - given my major complaint - that both clean and harsh male vocals are at their best and most expressive here, helped by more frequent alternations and female interjections, and slightly less prominence in the soundstage.

It does remain something of a mixed bag, however, and I'd probably have to say that I actually prefer the more uptempo and vital sections to the doomier ones: in all honesty, given the strengths and weaknesses shown here, I could quite easily see the band finding their most appropriate niche somewhere in the brutal-yet-melodic Gothic Metal sphere - something like Eternal Tears Of Sorrow or Dark the Suns - although it would be equally valid to firm up the Doom elements and go darker and heavier. Not that I object to cross-genre fertilisation in any way, but this is spread just a little too wide to really give consistently of its best. Still, I'm sure I'm not alone in appreciating broad-spectrum Gothic, and if your taste falls similarly, then this isn't bad, especially by first-release standards.

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Reviewer's rating: 7/10


Tracklist :
1. Тьма внутри/The Darkness Inside
2. Бесконечный листопад/Endless Leaf Fall
3. Разбитое сердце/Broken Heart
4. Бездна/Abyss
5. Чужое отражение/Alien Reflection
6. Сны/Dreams
7. Тишина... отчаяние/Silence...Despair

Duration : Approx. 50 minutes

Visit the Aspercrucio bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-03-02 by Mike Liassides
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