Contrary to what its title suggests, LOCRIAN's latest, "Return to Annihilation", is no predictable swan-dive off the done-to-death avant-garde black metal cliff - a move that would frankly do this astoundingly prolific, ever-evolving Chicago ensemble's blossoming career a major disservice.
Instead, and in agreement with their eternally restless discography, this too is a vastly diverse musical snapshot of the artists in the present moment - these being multi-tasking founders Andr? Foisy (guitar, bass, percussion) and Terence Hannum (vocals, synthesizers, organs, tapes, guitar), plus more recently acquired drummer Steven Hess.
And the present moment sees LOCRIAN still doing anything they damn well please...
On the opening "Eternal Return", ominous synths abruptly appear out of the murk only to unveil rich, uplifting chords that are almost immediately harassed by anguished screams and, later, abusive guitar feedback - somewhat like an army of dream-pop terrorists waltzing with Count Grishnakh under the pale moonlight.
In opposition to its title, "A Visitation From the Wrath of Heaven", weaves minimalist electronics over an insistent, yet curiously heartless, techno drum beat, while the yearning acoustic guitar plucking heard on twin highlights, "Two Moons" and "Exiting the Hall of Vapor and Light", fairly bursts with pent-up, lip-quivering emotion over brooding drone foundations.
These ambient tendencies are finally overwhelmed by the title track's forceful drums and ghostly monastic chants: a change of tact that duly leads to panoramic, AGALLOCH-ian style dark metal (i.e. more tortured vocalizing draped in mournful gothic melodies) and then the blackened industrial soundtrack and claustrophobic terror of "Panorama of Mirrors".
All that's left now is for the epic, fifteen-minute sweep of "Obsolete Elegies" to provide an expanded summary of all that which came before, changing and evolving like a deftly orchestrated crescendo that culminates, at last, in the catharsis of blast-beaten black metal, with persistent synths marching alongside, like faithful pallbearers.
When all is said and done, like most of LOCRIAN's albums "Return to Annihilation" is a broad swath of sounds and moods that nevertheless manage to sound "of a piece": every song may sound different from the last, their agendas may not always make sense at first listen, and foreign musical styles do inform and sometimes even hijack the core metallic influences, but to take it all in is to be immersed fully in the band's complex and meticulous vision.
To put it another way, terms like "avant-garde" and "experimental" are thrown around far too liberally in this day and age, when, in reality, most of the bands referenced are merely shuffling all-too-familiar ingredients around in song after song after song; but in LOCRIAN's case, the term truly fits.