"Caduceus Chalice" is the debut album from the Australian one-man band Moon. The band has released two splits and four smaller releases since 2008, and is currently preparing to record a new EP; Miasmyr, the man behind Moon, seems to be on a productive streak.
After the short and stylish acoustic intro "In Shadow," we get to the first actual track which starts in a surprisingly aggressive vein. Do not be misled, as the really harsh guitars tone down soon after the song's beginning, and despite it's aggressive undercurrent the main focus is clearly on the atmosphere. The harsh and simple riffs are backed by a pleasingly pounding bass guitar, along with some nicely plump acoustics present every now and then. To enchance the atmosphere further there's some simplistic but fitting keyboard ambient patterns, and the really echoed and hoarse vocals are used as an atmospheric element as well. The band employs a drum machine, which is in my mind a bad choice; the sharp sound does create some structure to the layers of harsh mixtures of ambient and black metal, but as usually is the case, the drums sound artificial, especially in the few faster parts on side a.
The a-side continues more or less in the same vein throughout it's lenght, mixing together simplistic black metal and softer atmospheres. The end result is melancholic at times, but the guitar's and the soundscape's overall harshness keep the songs from actually sounding too depressive; they're emotional and atmospheric, but not sad. I think that this is a working mixture, as it brings out the best in the band's both two core elements, and keeps the end result from sounding stale or softened.
The b-side opens up with the six-minuter "Caduceus." It has the mushiest and dampest soundscape on the whole album, and partly because of this fact the track seems rather pointless. The harsh vocals only emphasize the soundscape's lack of edge and structure, and the song's nice acoustics and atmospheric riffs are thus (to some extent) thrown to waste. The droning bass guitar and some of the soundscape's properties lift up the song's value, but it still fails as an individual track and doesn't create enough of an atmosphere. Luckily the album's almost fully instrumental 20-minute closer "Chalice," which is closer to traditional funeral doom metal than black metal, has a more fortunate soundscape. The riffs seem to repeat the same slow pattern, and the synths create an ambient field that rises every now and then to give the track a more massive feel and create a fittingly calm but epic pulse. The whole thing is backed by the really traditional echoed drum beat, which adds a bit of strenght to the track and overall fits in great to the atmosphere. The bass drums are not nearly as prominent on this one, and it works great. The electric guitars are replaced by acoustic ones around 15 minutes to slowly take the album to it's calm end; the artist clearly knew that he has no need to hurry. As I said, the track relies on very traditional atmospheric funeral doom metal -elements and offers very little variation, but stays enjoyable throughout its lenght nonetheless.
Based on the three shorter records I've heard from the band, Miasmyr has truly gone forward in creating an unified, atmospheric and structured soundscape, while also founding more courage to execute his ideas to the fullest. I like how he separated the harsher and more black metal-based songs and the more doomy songs onto separate sides, as I think it makes it easier for the listener to focus on the elements and songs s/he likes instead of having to go through the whole 52 minutes. It must've also given the artist more freedom to execute both the styles to their fullest, without having to worry about the album's whole being damaged. The two sides of Moon.
The album has a few style flaws. The songs all end to a cut-out, and even though they're pretty minor it's still a bother to the album's overall flow. It can also safely be said that although the artist has clearly put a lot of work into creating the soundscapes, they're still not as refined nor powerful as they could be. The album sounds authentically crude and organic, but the simplisticity of the ambient patterns and their sounds makes me feel that Miasmyr could focus more on developing them, and I bet he could make the songs more powerful by creating some clearer high points to the songs.
It's a very promising debut, and shows the band's many capabilities. I just hope that it will all be more refined by the next full-lenght. The artist seems to have quite a few ideas for his music, so it's interesting to hear how the next release will sound like. I hope the next effort will also look better, as this one looked quite unimaginative. The lyrics would be welcome, too.