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Act of Creation - The Uncertain Light Award winner

Act of Creation
The Uncertain Light
by Kira Schlechter at 10 November 2020, 6:28 AM

It’s better to take chances and mostly succeed than to not risk anything. On their fourth album, “The Uncertain Light,” German melodic death/thrash band ACT OF CREATION takes those chances and survives with only a few missteps. The follow-up to “Thion” in 2016 (other albums are “Endstation” in 2012 and “Secret Memoirs Of A Forced Fate” in 2010) might get a tad uneven in spots, but the good tracks dominate and they are especially notable.

“The Burning Place,” with its dark opening melody, has a Queensryche feel. The mix is a little muddy and sludgy, which blurs its edges, then it clarifies and resolves, and when the drums come in, the powerful groove is established in earnest. Carsten and Christoph meld perfectly in harmony on that major melody. Jess is a growler, joining the ranks of Alyssa White-Gluz and Angela Gossow, and does a fine job at it, keeping the phlegminess to a minimum. She has a nice spoken section in the bridge section and near the end (a tactic they use on several tracks). The chorus has a nice stop-and-start quality, a push and pull in the tension; it’s long, but that catchy guitar melody makes you keep wanting to listen. It’s about that struggle to find yourself and finally settling on it (“I want to be nobody else/I want to be me for the first time”) and the chorus is rejoicing in that decision (“I wanna reach the sky/No longer fear of the heights/Closer to the stars, believe my heart”). It’s also about moving on, from a place or from relationships, to save yourself, even though you’re being held back (“You want me to stay, but I’ll go away” and “I can’t endure the words you say/Don’t bother me with jaundices/Why should I justify myself?”).

“Break New Ground” boasts another sound guitar melody, and Jan’s drumming is varied and especially strong in the super-fast blast beats. Jess sings in the chorus and her voice is just as rounded and velvety as her well-enunciated growls. The structure in this one is a little looser – that’s the death metal part of their pedigree – the last section goes back to the first verse and the sung prechorus. It too is about finding self-sufficiency and not succumbing to despair but finding hope instead (“The light shines for you, leave the darkness behind/See the endless world, don’t be blind/Just bury the past, the sunset is near/Set yourself free, the satisfaction is here”). These first two tracks are messages of relentless positivity (like “Take a deep breath and evolve your grace,” a lovely line), which is kind of cool in a death metal context.

“Violet Red” has a speedier tempo and a melody filled with harrowing dread. I’m not sure if this is a metaphor (“all this pain is my angst” and “Smelling the mortal fear is my downfall”) or if we’re getting into CANNIBAL CORPSE territory with the blood and gore (“You abomination quench your thirst with blood” and “To slay everyone to satisfy your hunger” and “I’m hanging upside down/I see the butcher's knife around/My blood runs out, til I am dead”), but it is a little jarring after the introspective first two tracks, even through it’s a concise, biting little number. Jess’ spat-out syllables, as well as the fadeout melody and drumming, are standout bits. The middle tracks here are especially excellent, for a variety of reasons.

“Reflection” starts with Jess screaming, “Now break the pain” and a very WOLFHEART kind of melody with lots of fast strumming. Their guitar work is exceptional, as is this track as a whole, full of dark beauty and wracking pain. Jess sings in the verse and segues back into the growl – there’s a part in her gutturals where it sounds like she’s shrieking or crying at the same time and it’s a really different sound, giving those particular sections of lyrics even more anguish (“Maybe my whole life was a lie/Can I trust myself or every word I’ve said?/I’m caught in my self-deception/My home is feeling cold and sad”) before the growls settle in again. The chorus changes tempo from line to line in this structurally challenging piece. It’s a glimpse into how appearances can be deceiving (“My smile is friendly every day/But my demons seething with rage” and “Look behind my masquerade/Where monsters grow”), that only you know what’s going on inside. The metaphor of the mirror is especially effective in describing this struggle – “please tell me who I am,” she begs it, “You are the only one who knows my inner fight.”

“Sector F” is pure raging death metal, Jess fearlessly leading the way with vocals fired out like a machine gun. She alternates singing and growling in the prechorus, which leads into the slashing and undeniable slam of the chorus. This fictional scenario could also be metaphorical, the idea of being a prisoner in one’s own mind, (one’s “Sector F,” if you will), of being tormented by negative thoughts and personifying them and vowing to persevere (“But you cannot break my will/And nothing can keep me still”).

“Legion” flexes all of AOC’s muscle – the groove, the growling/spoken verses, the morbid chant of the insistent, driving chorus. This is absolutely political and social commentary, with biting observation throughout – “We are starving and live in abundance/We are choking on air, apathetic/We are killing and wanna live forever/We are covering our eyes, it's evident.” The juxtaposition of the imagery, the plays on words, are excellent – they do it again in the second verse, “We are destroying and building our empire/We are polluting, the ocean is inundated/We are expending wealth and live in poverty/We are infecting and begging for a cure” (pandemic anyone?). The prechorus is truly damning – “We feel superior to everything and everyone/Forging our own fortune/To satisfy the god in us and revel what we’ve done/But this will be our doom,” adding that we are ourselves “the legion of doom.”

The thrashy “State Of Agony” has a different type of structure, with sections of lyrics alternating with musical breakdowns. The first verse and terrific chorus repeat before a final scream and the last chords that repeat more softly each time. This could be another one about inner torment or perhaps even mental illness (“I'm drowning in fear/Can’t see anything clear”). “Confused Illusion,” with its straight-ahead tempo, showcases more of the lockstep tightness between Carsten and Christoph’s riffing and Jan’s drumming. The chorus is just the two lines with a lead in of a tiny guitar solo before it slows into a whispered vocal. The bridge is this great tension between Jess’ on-the-edge, almost maniacal, almost spoken vocal into the guttural. She uses all the facets of her voice, never settling into predictability. While the wording is a little unclear at times, it seems to be a little rundown of society, like we started out OK, “but our purposes are drifting out of hand” and we’re trying to “sustain the illusion.” We don’t “agree on anything,” but “we know we gonna make it through these days/To forgive one another and look ahead.” It proposes individual resistance to all this and maintaining a sense of optimism (“But you will never bring me down/Yeah I always believed in my own strength”) and urges us to “cut out our fears.”

The two distinct sections of “Hatefriend” make for a fascinating tale that personifies that voice inside your head, the “hatefriend” – he’s a part of you, but not a welcome one (it might be a veiled reference to addition too). There’s a definite story here, a plotline – he “wins the fight” at the beginning, but says “‘Believe in me, I’m your friend” and that he’ll “take away your inner void/Eliminate all your fears/And free your weakened soul.” There’s a great metaphor too here with the lines, “The marmot greets and smiles/And I feel like a mouse for a while.” A marmot is akin to a groundhog, but basically a rodent, like a mouse – it’s almost saying you feel like prey, like the lowest of the low. Our adversary reassures, “Don’t worry/Next time you maybe win,” but that won’t happen because he is “a bastard,” “my second me.” We’ve gotten complacent in the second section because we haven’t heard from him in a while (and musically it mimics the first section exactly) – “Next time all is forgotten/And the blues is dead and gone/Forgiven all the things/That my friend had done.” But when he inevitably rears his ugly head (“I hear him whisper softly, ‘Believe in me, I’m your best deal’”), we now have the strength to deny him – “Never will I meet you/My second me.”

After the cleverness of “Hatefriend,” the title track trips up a little. It starts well enough, with Jess’ spoken vocal, a sparse guitar melody, the chiming of a bell, and a sludgy, plodding stomp. The quiet part is gorgeous, especially the guitar, and then it explodes anew with Jess’ agonizing roar. But it’s the hardest to latch on to musically and thematically, making it probably the purest death metal track in terms of its loose structure in both respects. It could be about a near-death experience (“I am ready to die now/I am ready to live right now” at the beginning; “But where am I at all/In heaven or in hell” later; “I have to go and find my home now/Or could I belong in this world” still later; and “my soul wandering in the uncertain light” and “I lost myself, I am reborn” at the end), but its not especially clear.

This is overall a solid effort by a band comfortable with its own particular eccentricities.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. The Burning Place
2. Break New Ground
3. Violet Red
4. Reflection
5. Sector F
6. Legion
7. State Of Agony
8. Confused Illusion
9. Hatefriend
10. The Uncertain Light
Jess - Vocals
Carsten Schluch - Guitar
Christoph Milkowski - Guitar
Holger Fischer - Bass
Jan P. - Drums
Record Label: Black Sunset Records


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