Since their signing to Prophecy Productions around the year 2009, the German black metal project Eïs (formerly known as Geïst) have become rather famous in the German-speaking metal realm. Albums like Galeere (2009) and Wetterkreuz (2012) have definitively found their audience, although one had to admit that the songwriting skills of the band—especially of frontman Alboîn—seemed a bit limited and the songs began to become repetitive and overly calculated.
The project’s latest album, Bannstein, wastes no time promptly showing that Eïs are actually capable of producing new ideas and of evolving their sound. After listening to the five songs (clocking in at about forty-five minutes), the listener, however, is far from convinced that Alboîn and his team are actually able to overcome their well-known sound and way of composing music.
The problem actually starts at the beginning with album opener ‘Ein letztes Menetekel’ (One Last Writing on the Wall), which is an absolutely typical and classic Eïs track. An atmospheric ambient-like intro with a dark and eerie-sounding narration leads to a pounding mid-tempo song which is built around riffs and drum lines—a sound that is typical for the German horde. While in general it might not be considered bad to offer a classic song at the beginning of a new album—after all, it might make the listener comfortable and provide a homelike feeling—it simply sounds too predictable here. When buying an Eïs record, one should come to expect this style of song. So the question arises: Why buy a new album if you have the same music at home already?
The simple answer would be because Eïs do not only offer more of the same, but they are actually able to show—at least in two songs—that something is happening in their songwriting. ‘Fern von Jarichs Gärten’ (Far from Jarich’s Gardens) is an eight-minute roller-coaster ride. The track begins very slowly with a touch of melancholy; an enigmatic voice can be heard from the depths as Alboîn begins his wild screaming and the guitars immediately hit the mark. While the guitar performance is rather uplifting here, some sort of clarion sets in and gives the whole track a majestic and epic feeling. And just when you have become comfortable within this wall of sound, everything changes, beginning with an onslaught of drums and riffs that have suddenly taken on a faster tempo while somehow retaining an icy sharpness. This is a perfect example of intelligent songwriting: not only are Eïs able to combine old and new elements, but the tension is also kept high throughout the entire eight minutes.
The same kind of compliment can also be given to the last track on the album, ‘Im Schoß der Welken Blätter’ (In the Womb of Withered Leaves). It is with the opening of this song that one can easily see that the second half of the album is actually much stronger than the first. ‘Im Schoß der Welken Blätter’ is not necessarily as strong as ‘Fern von Jarichs Gärten’, but it features a stunning intro of about two-and-a-half minutes that carries over the depressive atmosphere—with the help of clean guitars and stringed accompaniment—from the opening moments of Bannstein. The musical motives that are carefully developed throughout this introduction are actually intelligently interwoven with the metal parts that follow.
One can find three adequate, or—better stated—standard songs on Bannstein and two solid ones. Therefore, the question arises: Why wasn’t it possible to create more songs in the vein of the last ones in order to give the album an edge or to show the listeners that a real evolution in the band’s songwriting has taken place? Granted, metal fans are in general musically conservative people and it is usually a very courageous choice to alter one’s style and to experiment. In all fairness, many fans will say that Eïs are not stagnating and repeating themselves, but rather that they have found their very own unique sound. This argument might be true from some perspective, though when releasing a new album, the slogan ‘more of the same’ can never be an acceptable argument, no matter how well the typical songs are crafted.
On one hand, Bannstein is a good album and will satisfy all fans of Eïs, while on the other, Bannstein is an album in which a lot of potential is being wasted. The band’s fifth album is sadly also the one with the worst cover-art, so Galeere and Wetterkreuz are much better suitable on a visual aesthetic level. It should be said that, a few years ago, several early members of Eïs left the band and decided to found Vyre, and while their spacey and progressive sound is difficult to digest, their music is more courageous, inventive, and enthralling than the latest work of Alboîn and his current troupe.
01) Ein letztes Menetekel
02) Im Noktuarium
03) Über den Bannstein
04) Fern von Jarichs Gärten
05) Im Schoß der Welken Blätter