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Menace Ruine, "The Die Is Cast"

Montreal's Menace Ruine stormed onto the extreme music scene in early 2008 with their blistering debut Cult of Ruins. The enigmatic male/female duo's unusual mixture of black metal, noise, and dark ambient quickly won them a lot of fans (the world clearly needs an evil antipole to Mates of State), as they succeeded in sounding like absolutely no one else. A mere eight months later, they have made the dubious career move of temporarily abandoning much of that sound to release a medieval music-based concept album.


Menace Ruine - The Die Is Cast

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.



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Review of the Day

In most places where this is listed for sale, it is called "1", not ""; just so you know if you're looking for it. Michael Fakesch (Funkstörung) wrote a glowing review of it, and that is what most folks post as a blurb. And why not? Fakesch (and Deluca) released it on their excellent Musik Aus Strom, and one can see where it crosses lines with their music. Where Funkstörung just cant seem to help themselves in the "I'm-not-gunna-let- this-beat-run-in- straight-meter" tomfuckery, Crunch lets the beats run in straight meter. He picks some highly digitized sounds and builds with that, none of the 4000 samples per 3 minutes here. There are changes, great changes, sweeping changes within each track even, but it seems more within the scope of the track. If you've ever thought or said, "this funkstörung record is great but i wish they'd keep a beat and stop showing me how many millions of samples they have stored", then this is close to what you asked for. Most of the record is decidedly downtempo, either head-noddingly slow, pulse beat or beatless; synth washes are generally on the somber side, with melodies subtle and often quite beautiful. Most of the programming sounds pretty complex, if controlled. Headphones are recommended for occasional use. Overall, this is very nicely varied electronic music, really one of the best in recent months I've heard. Somehow original sounding enough in a genre fast becoming homogenous. If you get the chance, get it on thick slabby double vinyl, in the great sleeve Fakesch got gooey about. I don't have anything bad to say about this record and I'm really looking forward to other stuff from this anonymous outfit. If you want a comparison beyond Funkstorung, none of this would sound out of place on a Schematic Music Company compilation. Very recommended. Thank you for your time.


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