Superficially, The Die Is Cast sounds like the work of a completely different band: Genevieve has completely taken over vocal duties; the pace has slowed from blast-beat intensity to a martial crawl; and all of the shrillness and shrieking have been replaced with somber melodicism. Fundamentally, however, the sound remains quite dark and Menace Ruine’s talent for compelling dark ambient has been amplified. While this album is much more accessible than its predecessor, it doesn’t seem like the band has deliberately softened their sound (the title track ends with some extreme, otherworldly dissonance). More likely, they just wondered what it would be like to be "crushing" rather than "frenzied".
I had read that the intention of this album was to pay tribute to the neo-folk of bands like Death In June, which filled me with apprehension, as I expected an album of dour acoustic dirges. Thankfully, while the foundation of the album is somewhat in that vein, it is often buried beneath layers and layers of buzzing, shimmering feedback that would not be out of place on a Fennesz or Tim Hecker album. As a whole, The Die Is Cast sounds far more like Lisa Gerrard fronting Sunn o))) than anything else. Which is no small achievement, as dabbling in medieval music can easily make a band sound like a bunch of hobbit-obsessed Renaissance Faire creeps.
The opening track ("One Too Many") is an absolute monster. Waves of dark feedback drone and glisten under Genevieve’s coldly beautiful vocals, while distant horns (that are not lame) and an insistent slow-motion thump give the track a very majestic feel. The lengthy drone piece that closes the album ("The Bosom of the Earth") is also a stunner: a haunting wall of feedback and overdriven, sustained guitars builds epicly amidst flourishes of cymbals and distant thundering toms for sixteen amazing minutes. However, the tracks in between (while quite good) mine very similar territory to one another. Once in a while, a welcome departure occurs (such as the eerie bagpipe interlude in the title track), but I am left wondering how staggering this album could have been with a little more work. As it stands, The Die Is Cast frustratingly avoids being a masterpiece.
Sadly, I will probably never get my wish to hear more work like this, as Menace Ruine have vowed to return to their signature scorching mechanized black metal for the next album. They also have an upcoming collaboration in the works with Merzbow, so I expect they will get some deserved wide-spread recognition in 2009. I will certainly be following them closely- if they continue to evolve at this rate, a uniformly brilliant album can’t be far off.