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Friday, December 5, 2008

Zentriert Ins Antlitz - "...No!"

Artist: Zentriert Ins Antlitz
Album: …No!
Year: 2008
Label: Tympanik Audio
Genre: Dark Ambient / Downtempo w/ hints of Psy
Website: http://www.zentriertinsantlitz.de

Here with go with the latest release on Tympanik Audio. I will refer to them as ZIA because I will never be able to hope to correctly spell nor pronounce the band’s name.

One major thing worth opening with is that “…No!” is actually more like 2 albums, or as they consider it, 3. You get the CD, which is the “album”. Then, by using a utility that can be downloaded from their website (woe to you if you don’t have a computer or the net!) you can extract 15 additional b-sides and remixes, thusly giving you another CDs worth of material. But you don’t just get the tracks (which are in wav format too!), you also get a ton of high quality artwork to accompany both the releases (e.g. album artwork) and the individual tracks (wallpaper-esque designs)

Packaging: 7/10
Ok so the overt packaging is the usual from tympanik: a nice 1 fold digipak with some good quality artwork – for some reason they chose birds. The inside is just a tracklist for the bonus CDs and pictures of the band members. The artwork is high quality as usual, but the lack of a booklet always saddens me a bit.
However, I give them some credit because the pictures included with the ‘bonus CD’ are VERY high quality and professional. The fact they give you full album artwork and 15 or so additional photos is a really cool bonus.

Composition: 7/10

ZIA make a pretty interesting mixture of dark ambience, downtempo, old school analog-ness and quasi-tribal sounds. The music on “…no” is predominately composed of: 1. dark ambient soundscapes. These are pretty well done, however they don’t create much of an atmosphere. There is much that sounds akin to a movie soundtrack; good backing material but lacking something at the forefront. 2. Analog stuff. What gives the atmosphere to these tracks is usually the layers of analog synth work. There aren’t really melodies or riffs, it’s mostly just modulating analog waves of sound. They sound pretty good and shift the album away from pure dark ambient, into more of a downtempo / soundscape type of feel. 3. guitar. Now that sounds pretty weird, but they use a very unique-sounding melodic guitar in a few tracks to provide some really beautiful melodies. Since you get the sound of sliding and strumming on the guitar, the melodies take on a much different sound than melodies from a keyboard. The melodies played are usually beautiful and complex (it’s REALLY nice to hear melodies that are more complex than 4 notes). Even though it is a guitar in entirely synthetic music, the way it is processed and mixed allows it to mix in with the rest of the mix rather well. They also incorporate a more flamenco sounding guitar, which sounds really cool and middle-eastern. 4. samples. ZIA uses some spoken word samples throughout this album and they are all VERY high quality / well mixed and the words said are also very interesting. They significantly add to the atmosphere of the track they appear in.

For the most part, all the tracks are pretty coherent and all of the elements mix well with one another to build up a placid mellow soundscape. I was surprised at how well they were able to fuse their dark ambient (which is quite evil sounding) with analog pads and sounds and transform the sound into something rather tranquil as opposed to ominous. There is good track length variation, from one and a half minutes all the way up to nearly ten minutes. Most of the tracks tend to be on the longer side, however ZIA is able to create tracks that grow and build over time, slowly developing a sense of being and purpose, validating the lengthier track times.

There are a few things I didn’t like. One is that there are some sounds used that simply do not mesh at all. For instance in “Silence Diary” after about 2 minutes of good ambient they random throw in a record-scratching sound. WHAT THE FUCK??? Nothing could have sounded more out of place. Some of the guitar-ish sounds feel out of place to me as well, but that may be because I really hate guitar in electronic music. Another qualm is that I feel there is too little emphasis on melody. For instance in “Where Their Dreams Live” it takes 4 minutes before any melody kicks in, and then after a very short duration it is gone again. On that same note, a lot of time I feel like the tracks take too long in building up and then kind of fail to deliver the massive zenith that you’ve been waiting for. There are too many rhythm elements and not enough lead elements. Here’s a quick impression: you’re listening and the track opens with some dark noises…ok it’s alright, I wonder where this is going…2 minutes of that and then finally a pad comes in and you’re like ok this is getting pretty cool. Another two minutes of that pad and then some guitar strumming or synth noises come in and it’s still building…ok it’s still pretty cool…then it’s still going….still…5 minutes into the track, still building…6 minutes in and you’re like ok where is this going…then it breaks and the tracks fades out. Huh, it’s over? That’s kind of how I feel with most of these tracks. A plethora of good sounds and ideas, but they stretch them out too much without ever catapulting into something truly epic.

CD2 is packed with some fucking STELLAR remixes. The remixes by Integral, Totakeke, Stendeck and Subheim are probably better than the content on the main album. Unfortunately no matter how good the remixes are, hearing 7 remixes of the same song gets really tedious. So, I don’t recommend listening to all 7 in a row!

The remix by Autoclav1.1 is fucking amazing; maybe the best on the album. Disharmony’s remix is worth checking out as well. I wasn’t that impressed with the other remixes. The ZIA tracks on here are good if you enjoyed CD1.

Production: 9/10

Basically the same as every release on Tympanik. Really top notch production, all the instruments have great clear tones. Even the dark ambient parts sound exceptional.

Artistic Merit: 7.5/10

In terms of the music on “…no”, there is a fair bit of artistic merit. They have a good style, however the majority of their album consist of ambient and downtempo passages that are not the most unique or stunning things I’ve ever heard. They do a good job of meshing say, Camanecroscope or Coph Nia with Bluetech or whatever…but I feel like their sound is more “a mesh of this and that” rather than something totally unique.

I will say that I have to give them lots of artistic points for the presentation of the album. The way they have it set up so you download their personal utility to “unlock” the album is fucking genius! I really hope that this inspires bands think of new ways to reward buyers.

Flow: 8/10

Most of the songs feature nice progressively building structures. The songs are all of similar moods, so it is easy to sit down and listen to this album all the way through. The only thing is that some of the songs seem to drone on for too long without kicking up to the next level.

Overall: 8/10

Overall, “…No!” is a pretty good album. The album itself will provide at least a few good listens for any fans of downtempo and/or what has been released thus far on Tympanik. However, even if the main album is only ‘pretty good’, what really makes this package worth buying is the presence of the extra content. Some of the remixes on here are almost worthy of purchase alone. So, if you’re a fan of Tympanik Audio, this one will not disappoint.

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