Noêta drops the supreme “Beyond Life and Death”
The Swedish duo may have released the ambient folk album of the decade. | Courtesy of Christopher Zibellvia
Fans of dark ambient and neo folk music alike will hold “Beyond Life and Death” — released through Prophecy Productions — in highest regard as Noêta’s bewitching amalgamation of the two styles creates the perfect soundtrack for self-examination and philosophical dialogue.
“One of our great assets is that we come from very different musical backgrounds,” Êlea and Ândris claimed in an interview with Cultartes Magazine. As self-proclaimed practitioners of “anti-normative black ambient,” eclectic combinations become the name of the game for the duo. Ritualistic drum loops and minimalistic soundscapes subtly crescendo into dreary luminosity. Labels remain elusive as “Beyond Life and Death” travels through a surprisingly diverse array of textures, arrangements and melodies.
“Beyond Life” starts the album with ghostly vocal drones and a thudding synth bass drum, emphasizing ambient over folk. The vocal emphasis showcases Êlea’s rapturous delivery right off the bat. Her voluminous notes remain powerful in their shroud of spectral reverb, supported by Ândris’ low-end monotone as the glue for an otherwise amorphous journey.
Using analogue recording to their advantage, Noêta keep their songs grounded in nuanced songwriting as they utilize diverse instrumentation. Both members know exactly what each song needs, as exemplified by the djembe-esque percussion in “Darkest Desires” or the serene walls of synth pads in “Beyond Death,” never losing sight of the haunting melodies and arpeggiations laying the foundation.
“Beyond Life and Death” might seem worlds away from anything related to the extreme metal leanings of Noêta’s labelmates, but the album’s impenetrable darkness leaves most black metallers in the dust. “In Void” and “Dead Soil” exemplify this depressive drowsiness through finger picked guitars, capturing the essence of Scandinavian darkness much like Norway’s Ulver did with “Kveldssanger” in 1996.
Tracks like “In Drowning” and “In Thunder” take a more direct approach with distorted guitars and trudging basslines, but never come close to sounding like metal. Noêta’s sound embellishes the dreary atmosphere from black metal with a style entirely of their own design, constructing beautifully melancholy musical platitudes that the lyrics use to a haunting effect.
This album’s concept breaks into three sections, with instrumental tracks “Pneûma” and the concluding “Urkaos” separating them — the former cut bringing back the central vocal line in “Beyond Life.” Noêta examines the journey of a naive soul to properly appreciate and embrace the chaotic power of nature after diving headfirst into a trial by fire. However, these complex existential topics come wrapped in surprisingly palatable doses of ominous vocal phrasing and intimate humanity. The disenchanted negativity of the midpoint contrasts with the beginning’s sense of wonder and the end’s assimilated enlightenment, smoothing out the album’s flow while creating three distinct auras.
Noêta’s full-length LP ultimately succeeds by submerging the listener in nine unique sonic environments using analogue as both an aesthetic and musical tool. Each layer of the soundscapes they create sounds just as pure as Êlea’s singing. Guitar, bass, synth and noise effects transcend their computerized counterparts with organic sounds.
As “In Void” achieves full-bodied dynamism through folky acoustic guitar modulations using perfectly placed synth swells and bottom-heavy rumble, so does dreamy electric strains maintain footing in raw execution in “Dead Soil.”
“Beyond Life and Death” reaches truly sublime desolation by spurring neofolk into the stratosphere of epiphany and the depths of inner turmoil, while its beauty strengthens and affirms a humble approach to the universe and one’s place in it. Noêta’s first LP stands as a eerily spiritual, benchmark-setting journey, an album they and their contemporaries will have trouble topping.