Goody. I get to say “post-metal” again.
My hatred of the label aside, post-metal is a genre that always hits me straight in the gut when it’s done well. It’s built on a foundation of cinematic song structures, climactic riffs and an aura of size that more than anything makes the listener feel small, like the first time you see just how many stars there really are in the sky. Night Terrain’s music creates that aura by invoking the impression of a summer storm on the horizon, a distant threat of upheaval amidst warm, languid beauty.
Night Terrain’s music, like much of this genre, is almost entirely instrumental, aside from the final track Distant Echoes and the occasional film samples used like the very effective quotation from War of the Worlds on Dusk. I don’t know where a lot of people stand on film samples in metal but I quite like it when it’s done well, and I feel it is here. The album spends much of its beefy hour-long run time surging through slow, plodding grooves a la Pelican or more upbeat but still doom-tinged rocky riffs that remind me a lot of the Gathering’s wonderful 1995 release Mandylion. They weave through tempo changes much like the rise and fall of a torrential rain, providing a brief respite from the clamour before resuming the downpour. The quick-fire, rapidly changing riffing is the driving force of this record, and you’re rarely more than a few bars away from a strong burst of quality guitar playing. The drums crash along maybe a little too quietly for the atmosphere of the music, though the playing itself is very enjoyable, with a barely-refined rawness that reminds me a bit of Colour Haze. The bass playing is very upfront, even when it’s just fattening up the guitars, and it’s very satisfying. The sound of a bass chugging along really adds to the “distant thunder” thing the album has going on, particularly when the riffs are crawling thick and heavy. This is a power trio that really knows how to work off each other’s strengths to create something better than the sum of its parts.
My gripes with this album would be twofold. First, the production sounds just a bit too thin. The music Night Terrain has written here needs a sound as huge and ominous as the composition suggest, but there’s a slight muddiness to it that quiets it a bit and I feel detracts from the overall impression. I’m the last one to argue in favour of the loudness to which albums have been mixed in recent years, but I think this is an album that could have benefitted from it. As it is, it feels like watching the aforementioned storm through a window. There’s a feeling of security being inside four walls as a storm approaches, and a clearer, louder sound could tear those walls down and allow the listener to really internalize the foreboding nature of the music.
Second is that there just isn’t enough variety here for the whole album to remain strong. They do have a go at changing things up with the pacing but without vocals to catch the ear; you need to have strong compositional chops to prevent the music from running together. As it stands, there is little in any individual song to distinguish it from any other, making for an album that feels like it plateaus at a lower summit than the band appears to be talented enough to reach. It’s almost frustrating, but it’s still a good enough album that it’s not too hard to forgive.