The Fifth Alliance
“Death Poems” – Vinyl/CD/Cassette/DD
Consouling Sounds released October 30, 2015
I’ve probably waxed poetic quite a few times about how I am a sucker for any art that juxtaposes the angelic and the menacing. I don’t know where I picked up that phrase. I’ve been using it a good twenty years. I suspect that I read it somewhere, in the writings of some wordy philosopher or obscure literary critic, and where ever it came from, it resonated, so I adopted it in a vain, youthful attempt to sound clever and “deep”.
It’s also entirely possible that I actually did come up with it. I could probably even concoct some bogus origin story for how I first used it, but the truth is that I really don’t remember. Besides, that’s one of the things that I love about life, the unsolvable mysteries, the things that we’ll have no way of actually knowing. The juxtaposition of the angelic and the menacing: that’s my personal mystery.
My point in bringing up my own private overused cliché is that it’s the perfect description of The Fifth Alliance’s bleak yet beautiful masterpiece, Death Poems.
I have a few steadfast convictions about art: firstly, that the artist should ultimately be the slave of their own imagination, that it’s their job to also enslave their audience within that same imaginative vision. That’s definitely my own idea. I wrote that and I live that. But the truly great art, it goes beyond mere imagination. It always explores the reconciliation of opposites.
That’s definitely not my own idea, it’s the idea of Samuel Coleridge, my favorite poet, and perhaps the most metal poet of all time, as Iron Maiden’s “Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner” would seem to suggest. Thankfully, this isn’t a review of Powerslave, because aside from the aforementioned song, I will trash that album for its mediocrity, and you will all be filled with righteous indignation and probably never read one of my reviews again. So I’m going to cease with my second rate aesthetic theories and write about The Fifth Alliance.
They’re a five piece from The Netherlands. They have a dense, thick sound, though if you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have realized that they had two guitarists, as the music is actually pretty minimalist. This is a good thing. Their songs are more about adopting an atmosphere, delving into intense dynamic shifts, and exploring a theme until it reaches its culmination, its climax, its apex. The first song, “Your Abyss”, is the perfect example of this approach. It clocks in at more than eleven minutes, and it never feels like it has overstayed it’s welcome. I’ll run the risk of stating the completely obvious: when you write longer songs, you can’t bore your listeners. You need to inspire intimacy. You need to either incorporate enough change and variation, or if you choose the path of repetition, you’d better hope that you’ve come up with something that bears repeating. This is especially important with a lot of sludge/doom bands that write longer songs and rely more on their overall sound and atmosphere, bands that punish their listeners into submission rather than solely tickling them with catchy hooks.
The Fifth Alliance uses the typical weapons in the modern sludge/doom arsenal: riffs of molten molasses weaved together with moments of stunning beauty and ambiance, all accompanied by a rock solid rhythm section and a potent female screamer. The vocals shift between her throaty, emotional shrieks and shimmering clean, melodic sections. They mix up the tempos well by unleashing faster, black metal inspired passages. The kinetic drums and rapid fire guitars are jarring and unexpected, and they jolt the listener out of any lulls or boredom that the slower sections can induce.
This is a strong album from a band that has a lot to offer within these four songs and thirty-five minutes. Fans of Ocean, Salome, Monarch, Bloody Panda, and Thou should rejoice in this release. I’ll be curiously awaiting how their career plays out….
- Your Abyss 11:05
- Fall of Taira 5:43
- Death Poems 8:52
- Dissension 9:53
Reviewed by Andy Beresky