Metal is a chameleon, of sorts. It's a genre that, perhaps more than the others, can take on different shapes and colors to fit your taste. It can blend in when needed, resulting in a few tremendous style mash-ups. Atoma incorporated electronic elements into their doom-centric sound, and Tengger Cavalry have made Mongolian metal a world-wide, newsworthy item. For Al-Namrood, the fusion of Middle Eastern instrumentation and blackened metal makes perfect sense both artistically and stylistically. After all, metal has taken many cues from world music, merging ancient history and folklore with heavy instruments to form an entirely new sound. On Diaji Al Joor, the band looks to push that sound forward, and carve out a place for themselves in a new and exciting circle of musical acts.
Inevitably, there is one thing that stands out early in a listening experience, and that becomes the focus of your adoration or disappoint. The early instrumentals are beautifully done, laying all of the cards on the table. They are a mission statement; here's what we do best, and here's what it sounds like in our minds. A well balanced mix of thumping drums and plucked strings emerges, almost as if every band you've ever heard incorporated those same elements. They just sound so right. Then, something changes; the vocals happen. Unpolished would almost seem like an upgrade, as the vocal lines feel somehow detached from the rest of the mix. It isn't a matter of a language barrier, though, as much as it is the actual recording of the layer itself. It's almost as if the album had been completed, and the vocals were tacked on just before the release. Again, it doesn't speak to the content, but the overall production. The first time through Hawas Wa Thuar tells the entire story, will the disconnect sitting right in the forefront of the mix.
From that moment on, you're immersed in a fight you didn't expect, and probably didn't want. You shift your focus, hoping you can simply remove the vocal track in your mind and enjoy the swirling melody below. But, try as you may, it simply doesn't happen. When the tracks change gears and go completely voice free, you can enjoy all of the small and separate elements that go into making this partnership work. It's wholly Middle Eastern, an easily recognizable style that permeates the entirety of the album. That tone is joined by periods of black metal insanity and death metal power. And then, all at once, you lose it again. Even the most structurally and sonically pleasing songs - Ya Le Taasetekum comes to mind - are reduced to something else entirely once the off-key, off kilter chanting comes in. It feels ill-timed, like they missed the given cue by a fraction of a second or more. But more than that, it simply doesn't fit, like putting flame decals on an Aston Martin. You spend more time trying to ignore the vocals than you do enjoy the rest of mix, and that is the type of attention draining pairing that usually results in prematurely stopping a record.
By and large, the marriage of musical styles works here, as the Middle Eastern instruments play silver lining to the gray clouds of the more traditional metal aspects. But they aren't buried, nor are they an afterthought, added in to gain some sort of wide appeal. Each and every appearance not only adds something different to the individual track, but it often elevates it in a way that must be marked as significant for the album which, otherwise, would be a fairly standard effort. Sadly, it's the vocal lines that pull down the overall aesthetic of the record. How they were recorded and in what setting is outside our range of knowledge in this case, but the noticeable separation between instrumental and vocal is distracting. It's a shame, really, as removing the vocals completely would leave the album standing as a nearly perfect foray into the growing world of unique ethnically inspired metal. The bright spots shine through, but the oral dust clouds on Diaji Al Joor leave it hard to endure.
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