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Smohalla - Smolensk Combustion

By: Etiam
Published: Friday, September 1, 2006
So, it is quite clear that Smohalla is the name of a musical group. But what is the name, where does it come from?

Enter Wikipedia.

Smohalla was a Native American of the Wanapum tribe who in the 1800's founded the Dreamers, a religious sect of spirituality and atavism. Thus armed by knowledge, approaching the band of the same name becomes markedly easier. And, keeping the tendencies of other 'post-black metal bands' from France in mind, one can construct a relatively accurate portrayal of Smohalla's sound even before experiencing it.

And it is true, Smohalla clearly do share much with fellow Frenchmen playing the more progressive strains of black metal in today's scene. However, to call them black metal, even post-black, is sometimes stretching too far. Much of their demo, entitled 'Smolensk Combustion', is instead composed of heavily atmospheric, semi-ambient experiments. There are a number of black metal moments, complete with tinny, wavering guitars and the distant, rasping voice rather redolent of California's black metal scene (Leviathan, Draugar), but often Smohalla indulge in 'spacier' exercises. Synthesizers, classical instruments, eerie vocal effects, and strong melodies all contribute to their sound as much as does the black metal core.

The band is also quite inventive with structure; but often their songs are written in non-linear, meandering formats that descend into ambience and unrelated melodies, most often the pensive, delicate sort that seem quite fragile and transparent when laid upon the stressed, vaguely dissonant ambience that permeates most of the recording.

At moments, this demo tries to accomplish too much and loses its identity in the process. Ulver meets Leviathan meets neo-folk is interesting, but in Smohalla's young hands it sometimes seems to lack intention, and therefore also poignancy. Other times, though, 'Smolensk Combustion' is beautiful, indicative of the true talent and vision that drives this project beyond imitation and to new fields.

Though Smohalla sound more than a little pretentious at times, and no doubt are, they are able to make the challenge of abstraction interesting, instead of simply elitist. For fans of black metal, this might constitute as easy listening, but it remains a convincing and passionate product-with some stylistic trimmings here and there, Smohalla could ride the current wave to great success.

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