Alas
Absolute Purity

Oh dear. It appears that I am going to very unpopular. Why? You ask. Well it seems that I am not going to follow the bleating herd by showering this famed Erik Rutan project with vast amounts of praise. Instead I am going to give my honest opinion of this album, with the hope that readers will understand that reviews are just that: opinion, so don’t let this review put you off buying this album. That is unless you expect it to be similar to Rutan’s other musical outlets. This is not Morbid Angel, Ripping Corpse or Hate Eternal – not even close, other than the fact there is guitars, drums and a bass.

Much like fellow guitarist extrordinaire Tchort with Green Carnation, Erik Rutan felt it necessary to explore his softer, more experimental side by gathering some fairly obscure, yet talented musicians: Drummer Howard Davis, and bassist Scott Hornick. He then went out to the School of Beautiful Goth Singers and grabbed the first available emotionally laden siren he saw and formed Alas (honestly, there must be a whole building full of these full-breasted, somber looking lasses just waiting to be pulled into some Goth metal project). Unfortunately, Rutan should stick to what he does best – brutal death metal, as this 10 dirge trip into the melancholy really doesn’t impress me, even if it does contain some top notch musicianship.

The pivotal ingredient of gothic metal is its ability to draw out emotion from the listener, via rending riffs and mixing beautiful elements with some darker hues to create a dual tapestry of musical styles. They have to mix correctly; otherwise it sounds like stuff just thrown together in an attempt to try to be atmospheric. And that is exactly what happens to Alas. Take into account some incredible twisted mildly melodic death metal song structures, that in their own right could be a decent album itself. Then add what kind of vocals do you think would suite this music-growl? Scream? For Rutan it’s neither. He went with the alto chanteuse Martina Hornbacher Astner (ex-Therion). It is a real shame as she does croon forth some highly mesmerizing notes, but it just doesn’t fit the rest of the material, and as a result it seems like an afterthought to the music. While Rutan and co. delve into some pristine driving Floridian-inspired riffing, she is belting out “Loss of a Life so dear to me, I bleed with every breath” (from “Loss of a Life”). It just doesn’t mix well at all.

This is by no means a rip on the talent in this band; it’s just that the talent was incredibly misplaced. Ms. Astner would have been far better suited to leading an outfit like Pale Forest or the Gathering instead of being expected to bring some beauty to a beast that should have clearly stayed a beast. As a result of the unwise mix, the album comes of as a couple of things: 1) entirely too artsy and pompous. Giving this kind of music this kind of singer is like putting a Monet up in a trailer. It’s as if Rutan felt his music was “too good” for regular death metal vocals. 2) Disjointed. It’s like two separate albums playing at the same time, trying to compete for the listener’s attention. As a result it becomes too much to appreciate the driving riffs, while absorbing the somber mood conveyed by the vocals and keyboards. There is no denying the guitar ability of Rutan. Take “Surmounting the Masses,” a superb display of fret-shredding time changes with a killer mid-section and solo that falls flat because of the direction forced by the vocals. It’s not bad, but maybe it’s wrong. On the other side of the coin, when the band does bring the music to the same level of the mood-inducing vocals, like the acoustic segments of “The Enchanted,” it works, and has the desired atmosphere.
I can see what Rutan wanted to accomplish with this release but it fails not due to lack of talent – there’s talent abound here – but due to a forced fusing of elements that mix like oil and water. They go together but remain distinctly separate. For those looking for how this style is done right. Ask Tchort.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
June 19th, 2001

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