The Dutch duo of improvised and chaotic black metal are back with a blast; they released three tapes almost simultaneously in the may of 2011. Out of the band's six tape-releases, "SententiŽn" is the most recently recorded one, dating not further than the end of 2010. As it is the duo's latest recording, I'm more than pleased to notice that it shows a great step forward from their previous (or previous to the bunch of three demos, to be more precise) demo Haze.
The band's basic means of expression have stayed the same; a raw and damp soundscape with natural echo serves as the setting for the dark, simplistic and chaotic bursts with drums and a downtuned guitar, and the songs are topped with some traditional growls and screams, and even some ritualistic howls. Right from the opening song it becomes clear that something has changed, though. The band members seem to communicate better with each other than ever before, which helps the songs progress very naturally in their own pace and form. The soundscape suits the songs really well, giving them a mystical, almost eerie feel - even when the songs don't have too many clearly distinctive hooks nor surprising twists, this atmosphere has kept me listening to the tape for quite a while.
The average song length is over seven minutes - way more than on Smoke's previous tapes. They don't go through any surprises or twists during their play time, as mentioned before, but their slow growth and upkeeping the dark and violent atmosphere makes them very pleasing. The song B2, for example, opens up with a slower section and truly atmospheric howls, but soon turns into a faster tune with steady drum blasting and fittingly mis-tuned and dark guitar work, and the song A1 has some militant drums and rock-ish riffing. The songs have variation and mutate from a section to another very naturally, and even if them being improvised causes the riffs to lack imagination and have sloppy execution from time to time, they still retain their original spirit, idea and energy that gives them their essence and convincing aura. The grainy and damp soundscape means that you have to play the tape loud, and it is then when it truly unleashes its capabilities of taking over a vast space.
The tape is packed in a small envelope which holds three DIY tarot-cards, an info-slip and a logo-sticker. The tape is coloured transparent blood-red and comes with really stylish on-shell prints. The packaging is pretty DIY but looks stylish nonetheless, and even if I personally found the tarot-cards plain useless, the black&white medieval imagery fits the tape's sound. Not bad when noting the 6$ price tag.
Out of the four Smoke-tapes I've heard, this is clearly the best one. The 22-minute A-side has the best songs, whereas 15-minute side B doesn't carry the same amount of zeal, energy and attitude. Smoke's demos tend to be too long, and it applies to this one as well - the whole package doesn't stay together for the whole amount of time. I hope that the band will take note of the factor, and of course, that they will again top themselves on their next release and manage to bring something new to their sound. How about taking greater use of the organs and bits of noise-experimentation a'la the intro for song A3?