AmenraIt’s rare that I break my rule of never writing in first person, however, I feel I should begin this review with a foreword. This was one of the most difficult reviews I have ever had to write. Trying to find the appropriate words and language seemed impossible, I felt like I was selling this record short with each draft copy. This has taken me an age to compose and having seen ‘Alive’ performed in its entirety at Roadburn has made this task all the more daunting, as I am aware of the sheer emotional magnitude that is invoked by each song. I’ve finally settled on prose that I think is passable and I hope you will be patient with me, as trying to describe much of this album is like attempting to depict an abstract concept that is much larger than myself. For the full effect I recommend you simply purchase this album and listen for yourself.

Since 1999 Amenra have been responsible for crafting the benchmark by which all European post-metal bands are set. Their ‘Mass’ albums are an ever expanding, intimidating and heavy work of art, encapsulating elements of sludge, doom and hardcore to create a series of some of the most primitive and harrowing music ever composed. Their influence has spread throughout their native land of Belgium to create ‘The Church of Ra’, a collective of bands such as Oathbreaker and The Black Heart Rebellion, who all play in a similar style and have collaborated with Amenra. In 2009 they released their EP ‘Afterlife’, the band’s first experimentation with an acoustic set-up, which bled over into much of their live performances. From this, ‘Alive’ was birthed; an EP of live acoustic reinterpretations of previous releases, covers and brand new acoustic material.

What’s most noticeable of all is that this doesn’t at all sound like a live recording; the band’s performance live is so tight, and the audience so enraptured that they are completely silent, you’d easily mistake this for a studio set-up. Recorded live at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, ‘Alive’ was also played live in full at this year’s Roadburn Festival. Dark, emotive and incredibly uplifting in places, Colin H. van Eeckhout’s vocals provide a stunning yet minimal narrative to alternative versions of songs such as ‘Razoreater’. Wrought with feeling, each track has the ability to weigh heavy on both mind and heart.

The highlight of the album comes from an incredibly well put together cover version of Tool’s ‘Parabol’ – Eeckhout’s voice renders lyrics such as “This body holding me, reminding me that I am not alone in, this body makes me feel eternal, all this pain is an illusion” all the more poignant and gooseflesh inducing. Brooding and murky, heartbreaking and gorgeous, if ‘Alive’ fails to inspire any feeling at all in you then you may have to check for a pulse.

(10/10 Angela Davey)