Nothing pleases me more than when an album is refreshingly different from my expectations. Genre descriptors are a great way to get a feel for what kind of album one is about to dive into, but often times they can lead away from the heart of what an album can offer you. Such was the case of expectations versus reality when I pressed play on Mord’A’Stigmata‘s Like Ants and Snakes, and in this case reality came out very much the winner.
Poland’s Mord’A’Stigmata are described on Metal Archives as ‘Post-Black/Avant-Garde Metal’, a combination of terminology that could call to mind anything from DHG to Imperial Triumphant, yet manages to capture none of what is going on in Like Ants and Snakes. Rather than the ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ approach to genre-bending that bands labeled as Avante-Garde often employ, what you get instead is a slow-burning, sultry affair drenched in goth rock sensibilities. Conjuring up images of Andrew Eldritch in a cabaret jazz performance, the smoky atmosphere of Like Ants, replete with droning, crooned vocals, screaming saxophone, and all the dour reverb anyone could ask for, occupies an interesting liminal space in the world of metal, and seems content to relish in the in-betweenness of its own existence.
Aside from some frantic tremolo picking in “I Am the Arm” and some vocals that just break into harsh territory, there isn’t a whole lot that calls black metal to mind on this album, and indeed perhaps not even metal as a whole, yet Like Ants is undoubtedly heavy music. The expansive sounding production allows all the elements here to drip with feeling, yet there is a weight to these songs that presses down on you, a tension that builds over their hypnotic repetition, only to be released in frantic bursts of experimental cacophony. The baritone saxophone in particular is a highlight of this album; much has been made of whether or not the instrument ‘belongs’ in heavy music, but there is no question that this album is all the better for having it included. The inhuman sounds it is allowed to be coaxed into making in the extended freak-out of album closer “Voluntarily Gone” elevate the heaviness to absurd new levels.
I have no idea how one would go about putting specific genre terminology onto what Mord’A’Stigmata have accomplished here, and that alone is the highest praise I could heap on this album. In a world of orthodoxy and trend-hopping, it is refreshing to encounter an album that truly defies both expectation and classification. Like Ants and Snakes exists as a statement in its own right, an album that succeeds at both substance and style simultaneously.
Like Ants and Snakes will be available November 4 on Pagan Records. For more information on Mord ‘A’ Stigmata, visit their Facebook page.