Book of Sand is a black metal one-man band that has been around since 2009, and The Face of the Deep is their fifth full-length. It seems that, specifically for this release, they went out of their way and dove head first in experimental and avant-garde waters. However I feel they did so in the shallow and might have broken their neck…
Their previous catalogue comprises pretty traditional black metal with various external influences that almost go unnoticed if it were not for the addition of violin. Some songs are very decent, like “Arran Boat Song“, with its contemplative monotony, and others are just bad, I’ll put “Destruction, Not Reformation” here, but there might be other more suitable examples out there. With their 2011 album, The Face of the Waters, they began experimenting with a newer, more experimental sound, as you can hear in the title and opening track. There is classical guitar and violin that seem to play a completely different song on top of another one with undecipherable tremolo-picked notes accompanied by very minimalistic drums. Later on, what I believe is a trumpet or a clarinet comes in and adds very little besides bewilderment. Much of the album follows the same pattern, and the songs are almost impossible to tell apart, minus a few exceptions, like the closing track “The Gates of Heaven”.
Four years later, they come back with The Face of the Deep, and not much has changed, even if almost everything I mentioned did change: No more classical guitar and violin, for the most part, instead there is a toy piano-sounding instrument, akin to a music box, on top of everything with a total lack of tether or glue to the rest of the music. The underlying distorted guitars and drums are now much bassier and blast beatier, respectively. Moreover, the guitar seems to have forgone tremolo picking and instead use exclusively a slide, for the extra avant-garde points, I guess. As with The Face of the Waters, the songs on The Face of the Deep are all similar and pretty much indistinguishable from one another. The introduction, “To Live Forever”, and “Interlude” are both exceptions that shine, but only the way dirty pennies shine when they’re in mud.Dreaming of the Deep
I don’t feel like there is one single bit of music on this album that is worth listening to, except if you wish to know what happens when good ideas are badly executed, or to find a new love for any music, because after listening to this everything will seem better. Don’t mind the fact that every actual song on the album begins with some sort of melody being played on the music box before being joined by slide guitar, blast beats, low and muddy bass, vocal shrieks and occasional supplementary instruments; it’s the guideline that every song follows, except the introduction and the interlude. Add to this one or more random and totally ineffective tempo alterations somewhere in there, and you’re good to go.
The band claims to make anarchist black metal, or even alternate dimension symphonic black metal, and the genre changes with every album, but once you go beyond these labels and into the music, you’re left wondering what the fuck is happening. There is no feeling of evolution throughout the album, absolutely no oozing of emotion, and only one question remains: Why? Of course, it’s not my role to answer this question, and as with any art, there needs not be an answer, you’re just left puzzle, and perhaps it is the intent behind The Face of the Deep. Disjointed monotonous black metal is maybe the best way I could describe the album in as few words. Even though I very much dislike the experience that Book of Sand put me through with this album, I’m glad I did; I can now safely say that there might never be something as overwhelmingly tryhard but ultimately indifferent than this.