Let’s keep 2015’s trend of phenomenal German black metal going. For a country that has been subject to some criticism for lacking a quality extreme metal scene, this year has certainly put some of that to rest. The focus now is on Bannstein, the latest release from Eïs. While the album itself dropped well over a week ago now, Bannstein’s quality is certainly worth continuous studying. Start to finish, the black metallers out of the North Rhine-Westphalia region have created a black metal piece that leaves a noticeable impression.
Eïs has technically only been around since 2010, so the name may not hold much familiarity. Worth noting, however, is their former title of Geïst, which was carried for the preceding half-decade. Looking at the full ten year career, they have release seven full-length albums, and four since 2011. It’s a solid catalog for a group that has remained in relative obscurity since their inception. Well, Bannstein may serve quite well to change that.
Interestingly, the only moment I do not think highly of is the spoken introduction to “Ein letztes Menetekel”, which, I understand, it’s intended to be an eerie opening passage. Unfortunately it just can’t be taken that seriously. Fortunately, the rest for of the song and album can be. Sliding further into this opening track, the audience is met with an organized, full-sounding blend of rhythms and leads. While the tempo alternates from a militaristic gallop to a blistering barrage of darkness, it is all fused together by a subtle, yet noticeable symphonic undertone. It’s enough to provide some much appreciated atmosphere without ruining the aggressive nature of the vocals and percussion. This theme, which continues through the slightly more melodic “Im Noktuarium”, does nicely to formulate the backbone of Bannstein.
Before working further along, the duration of songs must be acknowledged. This is a 46 minute album broken in only five tracks. Each one is its own dizzying display of organized chaos. That sounds like a bit of a contradictory description, I know. But once you see how the third (and longest) track, “Über den Bannstein”, is split between two personalities — unrelenting power and melodic deliberation — you start to get a sense of everything Bannstein does. Taking the constructive stance that Eïs does is ambitious. Yet, in true German form, they keep their style organized and efficient, developing an impressively creative sound.
The latter stages of the album seem to focus more on a haunting, melodic element. “Fern von Jarichs Gärten” opens with the undoubtedly most drawn out moments of the album. Highlighted by drawn out guitar passages and keyboards, Eïs creates an enchantingly dark surrounding for their audience. Slowly and deliberately this leads into spoken lyrics (which work better this time) that eventually erupt into a triumphant display of horns, tremolo picking, and chanted shouts by frontman Alboîn. And then, in definite finality, the closing “Im Schoß der welken Blätter” takes a depressing turn, where acoustic melodies take their time in building to a noticeably slower pace that just smothers a listener in dark foreboding. This departure is prolonged for several moments before Bannstein delicately fades to silence, leaving a listener with nothing more than dark emotion and sorrow.
As if emerging from nothing, Bannstein has become one of the definitive albums in black metal this year. Eïs covers an incredibly impressive range of influences that capture an infinite number of emotions. This is all done while keeping the overall album cohesive and captivating. At no point does anything feel out of place or over-utilized. It is creative, organized, and delivered brilliantly. There is no doubt that Bannstein will be remembered as a defining moment in the Eïs catalog.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”