8/28/2009 - Review by: Etiam
Endstille were the kaisers of German black metal from 2003's 'Frühlingserwachen' through 2005's 'Navigator'. Considering the competition--in this decade, black metal succeeded the power metal that succeeded thrash as Germany's definitive metal export--that is high praise indeed. However, unlike many other genre-dominating acts, Endstille's success had little to do with their longevity, innovation, or distribution, none of which were of particular note. Instead, it was their adherence to a strict and simple formula that carried them to the top. While such acts as The Ruins of Beverast, Secrets of the Moon, and Lunar Aurora were honing a new black metal aesthetic that was more gloomy and dynamic than infernal and relentless, Endstille were re-tilling old fields that some others had long since abandoned: the band's imagery has always revolved around WWII, while their garb remains traditional black leather and spikes and their music a dogged adherence to the 'tremolo-picked minor riff over perpetual snare abuse' template laid down by the Scandinavian Second Wave. (It's worth noting that while atmosphere does take a back seat to blasting ferocity here, Endstille's trademark book-ending of phonograph-quality recordings of vintage German nationalist music and radio recordings has always been highly effective. Also, at four seconds long, the single ping of 'Ortungssignal' set a chilling tone for the album 'Navigator'. This theme is continued on 'Verführer', but feels more like an afterthought than on some past recordings.)
Of course, any number of bands continue to mindlessly reap and sow those same exhausted fields, so Endstille's unique success had to draw from other sources as well. First to mention is the voice of Ibliss, a piteous rasp that epitomizes the misanthropy and pathos of black metal at large. His work throughout Endstille's back catalogue has been nothing short of iconic--see the opening swell of 'Endstilles Reich', the condemning chorus of 'Bastard', and the seething rage of 'Defloration'. Happily, on 'Verführer' he continues to demonstrate his diabolical skill, as immediately evidenced on the opening track's first verse when he spits out the phrase "...when I cut her thrice."
Equally critical to Endstille's great run of albums was the guitarwork of Wachtfels. Being a more traditional black metal group than some of their peers, Endstille still rely on pure riffing, and, using only a few melodies per track, their focus ways always on quality over quantity. Though never too too ornate or complex in his approach, Wachtfels used subtle runs, layered arcs, and unadulterated catharsis to give his melodies an extra and all-important boost. Always economical, his riffs are sometimes rather monotonous (Endstille now has two songs bearing that title, too), storming along for two or three bars before the cadenza makes a succinct, piercing point before leading us back to the beginning for another repeat--or twelve. These qualities combined with the relentless percussion of Mayhemic Destructor (not joking)--a compelling blend of blasts and subtly varied cymbal tattoos--put together the puzzle that ensured Endstille's dominance. For a time.
In 2007, on 'Endstilles Reich', the chinks in their panzer's armor finally began to show. While it was still a good album and delightfully cruel, the riffing spark that had elevated their mid-era work wasn't consistently present, leaving half of the songs as nothing more than competent. As the band approaches their tenth anniversary, its clear that their structural chops are much more developed than in the old days, but structure is always subordinate to the quality of each actual part. As these melodies and riffs became more pedestrian, it seemed that Endstille's dominance was beginning to fade. On 'Verführer', that fear is realized.
Though, once again, by no means a bad album, 'Verführer' features even fewer truly memorable tracks and feels more rote than its predecessor. (Also, the titles for tracks one through five may be incorrectly ordered, which explains the unspecific song references.) Some songs hint at inspired passages from previous albums, but back down short of imitation and are consequently rather anemic. A few riffs' brutish simplicity even invokes the likes of the atavistic Clandestine Blaze. Thankfully, most other songs achieve a classic Endstille tremolo drive, and a couple of the slower numbers occasionally expand their chord voicings to flesh out a melancholic interlude. Destructor's drumming, though frequently straightforward, remains one of the most dynamic elements of Endstille's sound, and his varying of dynamics, even when the note values remain the same, helps carry along some of 'Verführer's more static numbers.
Fortunately, a few tracks do still rip it up like Endstille's glory days. The first two songs especially are bestial in their fury and impressively composed on all fronts--guitars, percussion, and vocals. The production, as full and aggressive as the band has ever had, helps each instrument make its point: a cutting guitar tone, generally audible bass (in black metal, one takes what one can get), and a truly concussive low end. Altogether, however, that opening salvo is not enough to carry along the rest of 'Verführer's relative mediocrity. If Endstille can take some time off to reload their Gewehrs, shake off the battle fatigue, and spruce up their veteran knowledge with fresh recruit zeal, then their next LP could be a devastating campaign.
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