Review: Au-Dessus – “End of Chapter”

Lithuania’s Au-Dessus‘s debut album “End of Chapter” is a haunting, moving piece of post-black metal mastery. Conceptualised as both sequel and conclusion to their 2015 self-titled EP, “End of Chapter” sees Au-Dessus push deeper into the realms of dissonant, unsettling extreme metal. Comparisons with bands such as Blut Aus NordDeathspell Omega, and Schammasch are natural and appropriate, but Au-Dessus more than do enough to carve out their own niche in this flourishing style of black metal. Jarring, dissonant guitar riffs metamorphose into crushing passages of atmospheric sludge metal brutality; inhuman, tortured howls give way to melodic, passionate singing. Make no mistake about it: Despite the sleek visual aesthetic, this is challenging, harsh music that requires patience and careful attention to appreciate and come to grips with. With “End of Chapter”, Au-Dessus have crafted one of the most fascinating and powerful metal records in recent memory. 

“End of Chapter”
is certainly not a record for the faint-hearted. The tortured and inhuman snarls and howls of vocalist Mantas are enough to send chills down the spine of even the most seasoned extreme metal connoisseur, and could give many of the scene’s veterans a run for their money. The unrestrained black metal fury of ‘VII’ is positively frightening to behold, all violence and malice, snarls, blastbeats and anger. It is an utterly bleak, unrelentingly fearsome composition. IX follows suit, and yet like all of Au-Dessus‘ music, the song resolves itself into an equilibrium in its dramatic conclusion, slowly building its way to a crescendo of epic proportions with crushing, churning guitars, demonic howls, crashing cymbals, and a chorus of backing vocals.

The album’s success is in large part due to the equilibrium achieved between the band’s varying influences and styles; between the reflective, cerebral moments of contemplation and beauty; and the punishing, dissonant black/sludge metal aggression. The opening track ‘VI’ demonstrates the band’s capacity for dynamic song structures, opening by building up dissonant Blut Aus Nord-ian guitars, crashing cymbals and droning choral vocals. The effect is magnificent. The song spreads its wings with dizzying melodic guitar leads and throat-shredding screams. It later segues into impassioned clean singing while the guitars take on an almost jazzy character over thunderous percussion, which push the song’s crescendo above and beyond. The build-up and crescendo on the almost ten-minute centre piece ‘X’ is the sort of thing so many bands have attempted but ultimately failed to really execute in a truly compelling way, but Au-Dessus deliver one of the most cathartic pieces of metal in recent memory. It’s utterly enthralling.

‘XI’ is a furious, thrashing black metal piece; violent and unstable, dissonant and unnerving. The vocals are inhuman, twisted and feral. The crushing sludge metal influence reasserts itself, pushing the song even further to the limits of extremity. The album closes with ‘XII: End of Chapter’, one of the most deeply evocative tracks the band have ever recorded. It opens with menacing, orthodox black metal riffs and a militant drum-march, the snarls and screams as terrifying as ever. The first half of the song is a musical journey into hell: the atmosphere grows ever more rancid and suffocating, almost claustrophobic in its demented, tortured downward spiral. But at the half-way mark it begins its magnificent ascent towards the living. The latter half of this song is one of the most emotionally powerful sections on any metal record of recent memory: utterly tortured screams, howls and cries, unrelenting blastbeats, and soaring guitarwork. The album ends with the fading, haunting guitar melody.

It’s a fitting end to a devastatingly powerful metal record. “End of Chapter” is an incredible accomplishment, a haunting journey to the musical fringes of an already extreme genre of music, and one of the finest metal records in recent memory. It has enough experimentation and complexity to keep things interesting, with enough punch to keep it satisfying. It is equal parts unsettling, visceral, beautiful, and cathartic, and I love it.

End of Chapter will be released through Les Acteurs De L’Ombre Productions on May 17, 2017 in digital and physical formats. You can pre-order it either through Bandcamp or through the label’s webstore. ‘XI’ and ‘XII: End of Chapter’ are available to stream below.