Fex Urbis Lex Orbis

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Like most of the foremost metallic subgenres (but arguably more than any other), black metal has broadened in definition to include a confounding variety of styles, ranging from the most primitive to the most avant-garde music imaginable. San Francisco's ever-fascinating Ludicra fall somewhere betwixt these two extremes thanks to an assortment of beguiling contradictions, including but not limited to: "beauty and the beast" vocal styles; evenly contrasted melodic sensibility and uncompromising aggression, and sophisticated arrangements executed by relatively traditional instrumentation of guitars/bass/drums. But perhaps most distinctively, they steer well clear of black metal's "into the wild" clique, and all their over-abused themes (Mother Nature's mysteries, shadowy forests, pagan rituals, and vengeful pixies), to wallow in squalid urban decay, instead. To that end, they've gone and named their third long-player, Fex Urbis Lex Orbis, after the ancient Latin saying made famous in Les Miserables, meaning "Scum of the city, law of the world." A concept album, in other words, its characters begin their dreaded workday commute via the reticent, foot-dragging advance of "Dead City," then experience a short-lived jolt of morning coffee on the musically more energetic, but lyrically equally despairing, "In Fever." Next up, stark and haunting guitar lines (reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne's "Diary of a Madman") usher in the album's piece de resistance, "Veils," which "goes postal" in due course with explosive fits of instrumental and vocal rage, courtesy of versatile singer Laurie Sue Shanaman. The ensuing "Only a Moment" explores a variety of tempos and dynamics as it gradually crescendos into an exquisitely orchestrated, piano-enhanced climax (evocative of guitarist John Cobett's other group, Hammers of Misfortune), and the closing epic, "Collapse," portrays exactly that: the city's -- and its denizens -- ultimate, claustrophobic downfall over the course of 12 tormented minutes. In short, black metal doesn't get any more thought-provoking, nor is it typically rooted in such real-world problems (as opposed to ancient legends and good ol' Beelzebub) than those illustrated by Ludicra's admittedly grim viewpoint. The end result may still be filled with feelings of misanthropic ire and suicidal depression, but at least the means of achieving them are more tangible and, oftentimes memorable, than most.

Track Listing

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