After a series of splits and an EP starting in 2013, german black metal duo AST make their debut with Fraktale.
What initially got me into this record when I stumbled upon it, was the very emotive and concentrated sound of the band that bears a certain resemblance to the kind of black metal that Liturgy used to play on their first two albums Renihilation (2009) and Aesthetica (2011). AST also like to utilize short, recurring patterns in their music and infuse them with a little bit of a mathrock tinge.
In addition to that the band also features the at times very bright, glistening guitar riffs and powerful, emotive melodies that I really enjoyed in Liturgy's music. Songs like the album opener Vollendung as well as Necrolog Pt. 1 and 2 are very good examples of that, the latter of which is among my favorite tracks on this album. Necrolog Pt. 1 brings in these distorted, distant walls of ethereal guitars that burst into intense, brightly shining guitar riffs oozing with melancholy and power, backed by rolling, tumbling drums that feature some great drumfills. Shortly after the mid-section of the track the band brings in some synths that up the ante once again. The climax of the first part leads right into the second and is a prime example of how well AST utilize that Liturgy influence as the guitars and drums keep rising and breaking in recurring patterns.
Necrolog Pt. 2 once again leads right into the next song as it ends with those booming and droning synths that continue on into the next track, Dyphemist. The song then transitions into an equally droning doom section that extends until around mid-track where the band brings back the bright guitars and blastbeats that cut like rays of sunlight through a dark cover of clouds.
However, AST also like to explore their sound in different directions and experiment with some quieter parts and ambient sections on tracks like M.S. that features an intro with some buzzing static over quiet guitar notes and atmospheric synths as well as the second to last track, Leidenfrost, that starts off with some solemn synths with strong reverb and also features an atmospheric section with some distant guitar notes under a buzzing bass in the middle of the track. In the end, the band always comes full circle with their sound, but I like how they keep their songs dynamic by mixing in these bits and pieces.
I also think that the band did a good job of representing every instrument in the mix, despite how front-loaded and extremely dense the music on this album is. Both bass and lead guitar can be discerned easily and have a well balanced presence in the mix. The drums also have just enough punch for them to still sound nimble and light-footed enough to really propel the rest of the music forward. The vocals, distant and distored screams, are probably the most traditional aspect of AST's sound.
Overall, the tracks on Fraktale are refreshingly short for a black metal album and AST demonstrate a very diverse and dynamic sound rooted in modern black metal and spiced up with influences and ideas that push the boundaries of the genre. They don't really reinvent the wheel on this album, but Fraktale definitely has its very own sound and identity. AST delivered a really solid debut album and add another entry to the list of good black metal albums of 2016.