Last heard from on 2015 album by French avant-garde band Verlies things have been a bit quiet from Australian artist extraordinaire Tim Yatras of late. It would appear that apart from occasional guest spots he is only really active with Autumn’s Dawn and Germ at the moment and it has been several years since the latter released last album Grief. Naturally when this one was sent over on the day of release I was all over it like a rash and luckily found myself quickly in a very comfortable place, finding the album greeting me like an old friend who had never really been away. Yatras has always had an interesting and unique stance on the ‘black metal’ cosmos as illustrated on projects such as Austere, Grey Waters and Nazxul over the years. Germ sees him mixing up the template and actually making musical waves with atmospheres that can best be described as jubilant and even life affirming, a fair division line from the negativity and hate in a lot of the genre. This means that Germ always spring up like a breath of fresh air and despite the fact that you can find a depressive air within the music there is a real feel of catharsis within this projects oeuvre.
Apart from not being able to turn down the opportunity to support Enslaved in Oz and playing the forthcoming Prophecy Festival in France later this year Germ are very much a solo studio affair. I guess little chance of seeing them live make them all the more special and it is quickly established that this is exactly what ‘Escape’ is, another excellent album. Easing us in to the perfect 45 minute trip a musical box of mystery tinkles away on the opening instrumental intro before the title track hones in with everything heavily falling into place in the mix and sweeping you off your feet. Mighty yet in no hurry the heady melody is instant and the rabid and necromantic shrieks bloodily rear out in the background giving you two very different musical contrasts. It’s all really mesmerising and the post rock / shoe gaze flavours (call them what you will) flow with gorgeous alacrity which will spread through you like a warm glow and leave you basking in the delight of it all. Shimmering grandiosity is counterpoised with tortured cries and it’s all rather magnificent, sending shivers both up and down the spine and in all directions. What is missing here though are some of the clean vocals that also make such an impact on Germ’s songs and luckily they are still to come on next number ‘I’ll Give Myself To The Wind’. It’s a clever move keeping us waiting for them and delivering during the albums most persuasive and catchy melodic break. This track was the one that on first listen pretty much blew me away and has been difficult enough to stop playing over and over again. It’s more about the screams though and the near spoken clean tones are just dropped almost incidentally into things. Some austere keyboard parts are also utilised here and it’s a song with lots going on beneath the immediate surface. Escape into it and you will have difficulty ever finding your way out!
Fragile and delicate acoustic guitar takes into the more restrained ‘Under Crimson Skies’ and we get some clean singing to go with it before the hefty crunch of everything else drops in. There’s no build-up of layers just a big brash wallop and the blood-curdling shrieks are their along with the harmonic clean and heartfelt poetic side of things again giving the best of both worlds. After ‘V’ drops rainfall and some beautifully gloomy piano work as an interlude ‘The Old Dead Tree’ spreads its roots over guitar jangling and a more doom laden and depressive backdrop. Gnarly and weathered this is an impenetrable thicket ensnaring you until an acoustic break teases with an escape route. Like all good fairy stories though a sting is very much in the tale and the album’s longest track is not going to let you go without a battle. ‘With The Death Of A Blossoming Flower’ starts thornily and rages into some of the most windswept blackness heard in many a moon, this is savage and cuts a swathe through things with venomous screams and a pounding bombast. Anyone thinking Germ may have taken black metal per se too far from their comfort levels needs one listen to this to be put firmly in their place; it’s completely wild and savage. The album ‘Closer’ brings lightness after the storm and proves a gorgeous upbeat ending of a perfectly constructed listening experience. Once again Yatras has completely delivered a spellbinding album and one that could well be considered a future classic by those lucky enough to discover it.
(9/10 Pete Woods)