In a scene not known for its musical or lyrical diversity, bands that truly stand out either run with the formula and do it better than the majority or take the risk and incorporate different genres and themes, execute them as proficiently as possible, and hope that their fans are receptive. It is a risky endeavor to find positive reception in the dark underground scene, but on occasion the risk is worth it and a new sound emerges that is not just unique but also superior to the prior sound. Projects such as Dernière Volonté and Der Blutharsch are excellent examples of bands that have shed their old skin over time and developed into something newer, better, and more challenging. Miel Noir is another such project that crawled from the monotony of drone ambient and embraced a richer, more diverse sound with their album Honey & Ash in 2011. Their efforts to continuously evolve are even more apparent in their latest offering, From the Ashes.
From the Ashes was released in Decemeber 2015 by Russia’s Indiestate Distribution—a label that Miel Noir alumni have worked with in the past on other releases and in organizing concerts. Marcel P. describes the colloquial partnership as, “…just one of those ‘we-need-to-do-something-together’ things.” The album comes after a four-year period of silence from the band, so the title is a direct reference to Miel Noir rising from the ashes while tying it to the theme of bees, honey, and ashes of their prior release. The original incarnation of From the Ashes was to be a short EP to satiate fans of the project during this hiatus. However, more and more tracks kept being added and the release grew into a proper full-length with extra content for bonus material.
Comparing and contrasting From the Ashes to Honey & Ash illustrates what sounds Miel Noir are abandoning, adapting, and honing. The neofolk sounds that were teased on “Sonnenmann” from the prior album are completely absent in From the Ashes. Elements of martial-industrial have been retained, as the album’s titular song has a minimal snare that was characteristic of early Dernière Volonté, while “Heimkehr” has a vibrant drum that recalls Gaë Bolg. The rhythmic and pulsing electronics of “Das Honig-Opfer,” which opens Honey & Ash, have been fully upgraded to pure EBM on “Est ist Aus” on From the Ashes.
There is a plethora of sounds in From the Ashes, yet none of it is idiosyncratic; all songs sound canonical to each other while maintaining unique individuality. Gerhard Hallstatt makes an appearance on “Abgrund,” giving the track a heavy helping of Allerseelen’s iconic repetition, but mixed with a hint of dark jazz and lounge elements. This is a flavor that currently appears to be en vogue as many Italian noir-industrialists such as Macelleria Mobile di Mezzanotte and Division S are doing similar sounds. The EBM track “Es ist Aus” is a highlight of the album, with club-friendly beats and shouted vocals that emulate a DJ’s power over the crowd. “The Scars that Prove It,” “Crack the Whip,” and “See You on the Other Side” are three songs that go for a more accessible approach with an industrialized rock-pop vibe that are executed quite successfully as they are indeed catchy. The lyrics of these songs, along with the lyrics of bonus songs such as “Batshitsane,” stray from the literate nature of other Miel Noir tracks such as “Wo Eine Stunde Alles Gab” and “L’ennemi,” which are based on the works of Stefan George and Charles Baudelaire respectively. Instead, they embrace more mainstream (but also more identifiable) subject matter, such as relationships and physical and emotional scars. Marcel P. elaborates on this aspect of Miel Noir:
“Ever since ‘Wabenheim’—and even before, almost from the start of the project—there was a certain amount of ‘dark humor’ present in Miel Noir. Since our last album, the header of our website refers to Miel Noir’s style as ‘Avantgarde Pop’ and what’s more ‘mainstream’ than pop?”
While the above mentioned tracks range from excellent to amazing, the issue From the Ashes has, specifically with regards to the standard version of the album, is a lot of filler that needs reallocation. The album has a live version of “In Empty Coldness,” a different version of “Honiggöttin,” and a remix of “The Burning Season,” all of which are tracks from Honey & Ash. These tracks were all holdover items from the original vision of the release being an EP, and as more tracks were added on, these tracks were retained. While all of these tracks are executed well, the problem is that they simply do not add anything new to this album that was not conveyed on its predecessor. The live version of “In Empty Coldness” does not really accomplish anything new that the superior studio version did not from Honey & Ash, and its inclusion here seems like a curio more than anything else. These reworked and live tracks probably should have been relegated to either the end of the album and labeled as bonus tracks or placed with the bonus supplements in the limited edition. Having these filler tracks creates another problem: it causes the standard version of the album to have its best tracks back-loaded on the second half of the album. While the first few tracks of From the Ashes are good, the real prize tracks are located afterwards with a break of filler in between. This causes the album to lose cohesion.
The limited edition release of Miel Noir is a repacking of the standard version with additional postcards, a download code, and a second CD of bonus tracks all wrapped in a cloth emblazed with the Miel Noir honeycomb logo. The packaging of this edition is presented nicely; however, juggling all the music content between both physical and digital downloads from Bandcamp is an inconvenience. The bonus CD entitled Rising only has three tracks, so it has ample room to accommodate the downloads. The artwork proper for the album is effective as it emulates being inside a beehive with close-up photography of bees and their wax. The booklet features snippets of lyrics for each song, which is a welcome treat, but full lyrics would have been divine.
From the Ashes is an amazing album, but listeners will need to work to get that out of it. The release definitely has a substantial quantity of tracks and there is no shortage of memorable and standout songs. However, the album is in need of rearrangement to balance the listening experience. The limited edition of the album is packaged wonderfully and the five bonus tracks add some additional flavors to the album. The standard release version of the album is gold; gold like honey that needs a little bit of stirring.
01) Follow the Waves
03) From the Ashes
06) In Empty Coldness (Live)
07) Honiggöttin (2015)
09) See You on the Other Side
11) The Scars to Prove It
12) Crack the Whip
13) Es ist Aus
14) The Burning Season (Remix)
16) Wo Eine Stunde Alles Gab
01) Es ist Aus (Remix)
02) Miel II (Live)
Not Sorry (Digital Single):
01) Not Sorry
02) What I Want