Ephel Duath – Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness (Agonia Records)

Avant-garde ... but unexciting
Release Date: 
26 Nov 2013 (All day)

The phrase ‘avant-garde’ gets tossed around a whole lot when it comes to Ephel Duath. With the band presenting a truly unique multi-layered hybrid of death metal, jazz and post rock, the label certainly isn’t misplaced.

I first stumbled across Ephel Duath when a friend slung me their 2003 album, The Painter’s Palette. An unorthodox combination of hardcore punk and jazz fusion, the band was described to me at the time as being ‘a hardcore singer playing with a metal guitarist and a jazz drummer’, which turned out to be an oddly accurate summary. With a revolving door of supplementary musicians, main man (guitarist and songwriter) Davide Tiso has kept Ephel Duath going through 6 albums while maintaining the eclectic mix of musical influences through hiring such idiosyncratic offsiders as — on this occasion — journeyman bass player Steve DiGiorgio (who has recorded for everyone from Death and Sadus to Iced Earth and Sebastian Bach), German wünderkind drummer Marco Minneman (who has over 20  solo albums to his name, not to mention working with artists as diverse as Mike Keneally and Necrophagist), and vocalist (and Tiso’s wife) Karyn Crisis, who fronts the metal band Crisis, as well as having contributed to albums by Giant Squid, Nausea and more.

Despite all the potential that comes with such a diverse group of accomplished musicians, Ephel Duath’s latest release Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness never seems to meet expectations. Sure, the musicianship is solid and the band is tight, but the songs somehow manage to all the sound the same: midtempo snaky-riff affairs that circle about intricately with no lack of technical accomplishment, but remain ultimately unexciting. The monotonous vocals — which were the weakest point of the album, for me — really didn’t help much either. As much as I tried to like this, the album sounds flat and undifferentiated. There are moments here and there that stand out and offer some promise, but sadly, most of these fall away back into the homogenous morass leaving the listener unsatisfied.

This lack of accessibility has been my major gripe with all of Ephel Duath’s releases that I’ve heard since The Painter’s Palette. I’m all for eclectic, progressive, technical music, but when weighed against the engrossing work of recent ‘progressive’ releases by the likes of Gorguts,  Ihsahn, Dream Theater and Ulcerate, sadly, Ephel Duath come out looking decidedly second rate.