By Tate Bengtson
Through the medium of sonic resonation, this band of dark gnostics have harnessed the darkness and unleashed it upon the earthly plane of existence.
–Artep’s biography, excerpted from its MySpace page
And what kind of malevolent metal has this bold and brash group of MySpace-using misanthropes unleashed upon us?
The band has chosen an innocuous form to harness the darkness: Dimmu Borgir clone. As far as delivery vehicles for unleashing evil upon an unsuspecting populace, Dimmu Borgir is the airbag-equipped Volvo of black metal.
Then again, these dastardly demon-loving fiends do inject a modicum of danger back into the proceedings. Artep has chosen to focus on a primitive form of symphonic black metal comparable to the first two Dimmu Borgir albums, which it blends with Dark Funeral-styled blasting. The band’s music is every bit as derivative and dull as such a combination might indicate. The only thing that separates Artep from many of its peers is that it commits more than its fair share of missteps as it travels this well-trodden path.
Fundamentally, Artep’s music turns upon the interaction between guitars and synthesizers; each individual passage sinks or swims based on whether this interaction nails it or fails it. Generally, the band fails it, either through deplorable gaffes or sheer blandness. On the rare and brief occasion that Artep does nail it, the guitars intertwine with the keyboards in just the right formation to impress. More typically, either guitars or keyboards wash out the other, either due to placement in the mix or quality of idea or both. While rarely heard, when the bass guitarist is permitted a moment in the spotlight, the instrument shines with a proficiency and taste uncharacteristic of Artep.
The production is a mess, particularly the drums and vocals. While certainly raw, the recording values are ineffectual at creating an atmosphere and tend to draw attention for all the wrong reasons. The vocals are the most intolerable aspect of this project, coated so deeply in ham-fisted studio effects that they sound ludicrous. Thankfully, Artep does not make use of clean singing, as I could see the production mastermind choosing to coat the vocals in autotune in the fashion of contemporary pop/dance acts. Black metal production values, when manifest correctly, should create an atmosphere through minimalist, anti-modern techniques. Artep’s attempt is distracting and difficult to take seriously.
A few redeeming moments are scattered across the album, such as the impassioned lead and synthesized choir introducing “Desolate Land.” This track, a frenetic barnburner oscillating between blasting psychosis and symphonic respites, permits the guitarist to show some flair. While this track is far from brilliant, it at least manages to commit no egregious errors as it balances the different elements of the band’s sound. “Black War,” with its lengthy first movement, stands as Artep’s most compelling atmospheric achievement. Unfortunately for the band, the track quickly hits upon a clumsy drum pattern and then a circus-like synth twist, after which there is no recovery.
I have no doubt that the band members sincerely believe that this “earthly plane of existence” is a place of great evil, from which they draw their musical inspiration. That gives me great hope, for surely an album of such weakness as this can only be the product of a world that is not all that bad.
(Bleak Art Records)