In the ever-expanding world of heavy/extreme/underground/whatever music, the emergence of artists that have truly managed to forge their own sound is becoming a rarity; originality an endangered species. When was the last time you heard a band that sounded like nothing else out there or that struck you as a group of true musical innovators? Enter Montreal, Quebec’s Menace Ruine. After beginning life as a heavily blackened noise band with their debut album Cult of Ruins, the Canadian duo quickly metamorphosed into a multi-headed amalgamation of black metal, drone, industrial, noise, neo folk, psychedelia and dark ambient that (at least to these ears) has no easily identifiable precursors. Alight in Ashes, their fourth full length and debut album under the nigh-unfuckwithable banner of Profound Lore, is the most fully realized manifestation yet of Menace Ruine’s corrosive yet haunting outsider art.
Taken as a whole, Alight in Ashes is a somber exploration of minimal, overloaded electronics that is still quite dense sonically in spite of the often sparse nature of the compositions. There may or may not be an electric guitar in the mix, but if it is in indeed a guitar, it is being tortured and abused to the point where it is barely recognizable. What makes Menace Ruine’s metal machine music so compelling is the bits of familiarity buried amidst soundscapes that have been rendered utterly alien; some of the tracks on Alight in Ashes, such as “Disease of Fear,” could almost be mistaken for classical pieces if one were to scrape away the layers of distorted grit and grime, while others such as album opener “Set Water to Flames” and “Salamandra” possess a blackened industrial/neo folk vibe. The contrast between the folk-like qualities of vocalist Genevieve’s earthy incantations and the obsidian mechanical filth of the instrumentation is a fascinating one; the last time I heard something so utterly mesmerizing was when I first began exploring the early works of Darkthrone and Burzum. Although Menace Ruine have moved further and further away from black metal with every consecutive release, the specter of the genre at its most depressive and hypnotic still lingers over the atmosphere the duo creates.
For all the aspects of their sound that can be described as alien, don’t think for a second that Menace Ruine aren’t still crafting songs under that thick shroud of soul-strangling distortion. It’s probably hard to imagine Alight in Ashes as something even remotely infectious from the description I’ve given you in the preceding paragraphs, but rest assured dear readers, the desolate, decrepit melodies found throughout the album will worm their way into your brain and stick with you, even if you don’t immediately realize it. The fact that Menace Ruine are able to create honest-to-goodness songs while employing such an avant-garde (for lack of a better term) approach speaks volumes about their dedication and skill as both musicians and composers. It’s one thing to make a racket; to whip that racket into something that’s not only coherent but listenable as well as memorable is another thing entirely, and in this daunting task Menace Ruine absolutely excels.
At the age of thirty-three, I don’t often have those epiphanic moments of “this is the music I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear,” like I did in my teens and twenties, buts that’s the feeling I get when I listen to Menace Ruine; in spite of being at risk of sounding like a slavering, unrepentant fanboy, the band’s discography is a work of sheer artistic genius that has been an absolute joy to uncover and behold. Alight in Ashes feels like a culmination of their journey from the fringes of black metal to the great beyond of pure, postmodern auditory exploration, as well as a gateway to even vaster, darker dimensions.