Decades of heavy metal’s association with Satan and cartoonish horror have led to its reputation as being “scary,” but it’s a rare metal act that actually lives up to genuine terror. All manner of pentagrams aside, a band like Slayer purveys catharsis in the form of endorphin-rushing fun, rather than the proverbial spine tingle. And though black metal comes closer than most, particularly for having borne witness to a handful of actual murders, it’s hard to get past the escapism of it — the gulf between Gorgoroth and Gwar isn’t all that vast on closer inspection.
Montreal’s Menace Ruine isn’t a metal band in the strictest sense, their lengthy, hypnotic compositions and Medieval folk melodies putting them in a wholly unique realm of melodic dark ambience with heavy doses of doom. But there’s no getting around the fact that the Canadian duo plays music that is ultimately pretty unsettling. The basic makeup of the band’s sound on new Profound Lore release Alight In Ashes is fairly basic, at least on the surface — heavy distorted noise melodies throbbing and grinding beneath the strange, mystical vocals of singer Geneviève Beaulieu. From this fairly simple makeup, however, Beaulieu and partner S. de la Moth delve into the darkest recesses of aural terror. It’s akin to the psychological horror of “The Shining” or classic expressionism. It’s not so much what you see that’s so chilling; it’s what you don’t.
The haunted, thick atmosphere of Alight In Ashes is the kind of eerie soundtrack that might best accompany black magic rituals, and has even been featured in recent occult-themed experimental film “Black Mass Rising.” The instrumental “Burnt Offerings” throbs with the creepy vibe of a gothic pipe organ, undercut with percussive sounds that sound, more than anything, like breathing, just in case the song wasn’t already chilling. Yet, elsewhere, the hauntings are presented with more subtlety, as on the opening pagan dirge of “Set Water to Flames,” or the comparatively brief “Salamandra,” which most closely resembles a noisier version of Nico’s The Marble Index or a heavier take on psychedelic band The United States of America. The sense of doom and general strangeness that pervades Alight In Ashes can be a bit much to take at times, particularly for an hour at a time. Piece by piece, however, the band have created something stunning, and if only tangentially connected to metal, an album with a legitimate fear factor.
Stream: Menace Ruine – “Salamandra”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.