Black metal is one of those genres I could just never find myself getting into. The staples of black metal: tremolo-picked guitars, blast beats, and shrieks, all felt like they were just adding to the noise and making the resulting product feel like one big, depressing mess. This was my mindset until some time ago. I began to struggle with depression and my outlook on life became much bleaker than it had been previously. I was recently introduced to the work of Beijing-based post-black metal act Asthenia, and its full-length debut “Nucleation,” which turned out to be a perfect channeling of the emotional turmoil I was going through. As I watched the snowfall pour down from the heavens outside this album grabbed me on an emotional level and became the soundtrack to my winter.
Starting with what impressed me the most, the atmosphere created by this record is second to none. “Nucleation” succeeds at sounding haunting and bleak while simultaneously beautiful. Rather than sounding gimmicky like most comparable black metal projects, every arrangement on “Nucleation” seems perfectly built to maximize its impact on the listener. The lush and vibrant female vocals by Yiti perfectly compliment the dark guitar riffs and tortured shrieks and surprisingly effective muddy and lo-fi production courtesy of the mainman Asthen, resulting in one of the most depressingly bleak atmospheres I’ve ever heard. Never before had a black metal album put me in the trance-like state this album seems to effortlessly create.
The vocal performance on this album is amongst the finest in the genre. Asthen’s shriek is simply phenomenal. His scream is definitely in the higher register, yet strays away from the ear-piercingly high shrieks. He succeeds at sounding tortured and depressed enough for you to feel the agony he’s going through, yet remaining completely listenable for those of who aren’t die-hard black metal fans.
The instrumental work is also incredibly well done. The riffs feel perfectly created to help bring the dark atmosphere to a whole new level. The repetition of parts perfectly puts the listener in a trance while never feeling overtly boring or unnecessary. The drums, while incredibly simple, are unbelievably effective. Even though they typically hold up a simple slower beat or basic blast, they seem designed that way as opposed to sounding underdeveloped in comparison to rest of the instruments to take full advantage of the album’s slow and deliberate pace.
Overall, “Nucleation” is simply phenomenal. From the flawlessly created atmosphere to the perfect instrumental and vocal performance, Asthenia has created an album similar to what most would expect from a veteran making excellent albums for many years rather than his record. If Asthen can keep this up, Asthenia could easily become a force to be reckoned with inside the broad black metal universe. And I’m eagerly awaiting that day.
Get “Nucleation” from Bandcamp.