Norwegian mathcore sextet Benea Reach have been through a great deal. Counting a solid 14 members since their inception in 2003, they have been pitted against the like of Enslaved and Gorgoroth, which is heady company indeed. More complex, notably thicker than their previous records and rife with adventurous dexterity, the Norwegians have put the envelope on the floor and started to dance around it.
The first few bars of Woodland recall Ahab’s Another Raft Of The Medusa. Immediately there’s a mention of wolves and much djenting; the polyrhythmic approach taking every opportunity to zig rather than zag, fearlessly disorientating the listener. Rippling with muscle and determination, choosing this track to open Possession was a bold one. Many other tracks on the record are more immediate and concise, but this sets the tone for the album nicely.
Desolate throws its hat into the ring with some serious leg-up stomping behaviour, before taking a sudden detour into dampness. As the endearingly fragile female vocal enters, the male vocal mirrors its clarity; but as the chorus comes to fruition, Illka Volume’s ultra-harsh roars rob the moment of any delicacy, and the romance of that section is lost.
This is the overbearing dichotomy of the record. Moments of serenity and potential beauty are rendered impotent by the borderline arrogance of the harsh vocal. While this is unlikely to have been the intention, it spoils a great many parts; the chorus of Desolate, the quiet bits of Crown, the chorus of The Mountain, all given an impact bypass because of the over-reaching vocals. When scream-singing, Volume has a truly potent, individual voice, which is both believable and likeable, much like the rest of the material here.
The final two tracks are unquestionably the heaviest on the album, with the swarming rhythms of The Dark circling conventional 4/4isms expertly. The jarring break at 2:33 dissolves into introspective, sinister quiet before a large, black riff manifests at 2:59. As it peters out, the Enya-framed crabcore of Aura hovers into view. The female vocals are rather lovely, re-introducing the frailty of Desolate on a grander scale. Probably my favourite track on the album for its bravery in restraint, the heavy sections are massive as a result. Bonus points for the bass-as-lion-growl at 2:15..
This is a curious album of many faces. The djenty touchstones rather sell the music short in places, some of the more polyrhythmic sections test the clarity of the production to its absolute limits, and the brief introduction of strings on Fallen gives the album a sudden, unexpected elegance. However, where the chorus is an area in which the majority of groups have difficulty, Benea Reach appear to have made it their life’s work. Watching their live footage and listening to their previous releases, the biggest jump has been in confidence and courage, and at no point is their lexicon lacking in ambition.
Benea Reach have worked hard to produce a record that jars and stultifies expertly. Yes, it’s very confounding in places and yes, there’s more overall dynamic range available to them than what’s on offer here, but despite the ‘more riffs!’ approach, this is record of some depth, and on the escalation so far, it will be interesting to see where the band find themselves next.