Numenorean - Home (2016)

If conventional wisdom holds true, you'll hear your fair share of albums that could be classified as being 'great'. It's not a matter of probability, mind you, as there is no guarantee of any one record rising above the fray to prove itself to be lasting. But with the current slate of releases for this year, and likely into next, there's a better than average chance one, two, or ten albums will ascend to that level. But among those records, how many will make a deeper impact? How many will make a mark on you that takes it beyond the realm of superficial greatness, and into something more profound? Chances are, it won't be many, perhaps because that isn't what we value in our musical choices. It's easier to listen to an album that begins and ends, and doesn't endure. But that isn't always best. Sometimes it needs to sting a little.

Numenorean's Home generated a great deal of conversation, even before we'd heard the first notes. The album's artwork - the uncensored picture you see above - created a stir. In an enlightening interview with Decibel Magazine, which can be found here, guitarist and vocalist Byron Lemley went into great detail about the album's theme and, in particular, how the image that graces the front cover was a necessary step in conveying that message.

The central theme, music, and image for ‘Home’ revolves around a longing for something that we as humans will never achieve. We are all empty and broken in some form or another, so we look for fulfilment through things like money, sex, relationships, drugs, religion, and a variety of other things, but we in the end ultimately remain void of any true happiness . What we are really searching for, is the innocence of a child, which knows nothing about this world and since we are incapable of ever getting that back, the only place we can find this comfort is inevitably only through death. The little girl on the cover represents this final resting place for us – beyond our existence in this world. And the album title sums it up once you realize she doesn’t have to experience all the pain and sorrow of becoming an adult. ‘Home’ evokes this melancholic blissful state within the listener and as you spend more time becoming familiar her picture, you begin to see the music reflecting her being in this condition, reflected in her face seemingly close to smiling. It is the death of innocence.

It's weighty, if nothing else, but it's also bold. The comment section for the interview, dropping like a beard from the main article, was marked with instances of people who thought they had gone too far, that the image was too disturbing. "Great tracks, great band, fuck your album cover. Take that as you please," said one user. And maybe that is what the band expected. They hadn't taken the safe route, instead choosing to be honest with themselves and their listeners; this album would not be one of shallow ideals. In fact, one could argue that the imagery and the music contained beneath it are inseparable. They attach themselves to you, together, in ways you might not be accustomed to.

Luckily, this isn't a visual statement with no sonic equal. The substance exceeds the stated goal, creating an atmosphere that is as harsh and abrasive as the world it purports to represent. And it's there that the album succeeds where many have failed; it takes a thematic element, and makes it tangible. You can feel the innocence eroded away, replaced by the feeling of your skin crawling.  They capture it all through the normal means - guitar, bass, drums, vocals - and yet it seems unfamiliar to feel it so strongly.

Boiled down to an instrumental, this space would be full of references to abstract beauty, an often ethereal and melodic construction of post-black metal in the vein of Alcest. Numenorean strike all of the right chords, no pun intended, along the way, playing on the contrast between melody and chaos to the utmost success. As the interlude track Shoreless rolls into Devour, you can almost feel the short, gasped breath coming before the dam breaks and your head is plunged under the crashing waters. Its an exercise in control and release to some extent, anchoring one side in the swaying, howling of calm before allowing the raw emotion of the moment overtake you. But they always manage to reset, only to complete the entire process again.

The experience isn't one for the weak of mind or feint of heart, though. Vocalist Brandon Lemley - Byron's twin brother - often feels as though he is projecting from the other side, his voice disjointed from the mix below and hovering overhead. You'll want to separate the voice from the words, the jagged and inconvenient truths contained in the lyrics, so as not to feel the overwhelming weight. But you can't, and you shouldn't. They are a vessel for the lyrics which are, in a word, difficult. His voice, the haunting, nightmare inducing wail, is the reality to the hopefulness of the instrumental. It's where the facade of innocence and peace are stripped away and revealed to be what you never wanted to admit: loss and grief.

Together, the album is one of true greatness. It doesn't shrink in the spotlight, nor does it reveal weakness after repeated and in-depth listens. In fact, it grows and resonates, despite being a challenging listen. Once you've heard the album, read through the lyrics, and simply allowed them to penetrate, the artwork won't seem so off-putting. In fact, the entire record becomes whole. Yes, you might opt to use the censored piece in your collection or on your portable device, in order to avoid questions from those who might look over your shoulder to see what you're listening to. Maybe they won't understand. But Home isn't about softening the blow of reality. It just is. It isn't beautified, manicured, and polished to an unattainable shine. It often feels all too real, cutting through the surface into something deep inside. It's great in a different way. It hurts. For them, and for us.

"All we are is too remain
All we are is doomed to die."

9.5/10

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/Numenoreanofficial/
Bandcamp - https://numenorean.bandcamp.com/album/home