Return To Annihilation is Locrian's most accessible album, although "accessible" is a subjective word. Considering how challenging much of the Chicago trio's back catalog is, you should take that claim with a grain of salt. The songs on this album aren't necessarily technically complex, but they demand the listener's attention if they're to be fully enjoyed. This is a record best experienced from start to finish in one listening session. At a high volume. And possibly while you're all potted up on mary jane.
Despite it's apocalyptic sounding name, Return To Annihilation opens with a relatively upbeat track titled "Eternal Return". The song is built around an airy synth loop that gives the track a hauntingly ethereal quality. There's an unmistakable prog-iness here that's going to surprise those familiar with Locrian's back catalog; this sounds nothing like what the band has created in the past.
After the initial shock of "Eternal Return", the trio slip back into more familiar, droney, experimental territory, but this music is still a lot different from the band's previous efforts. I'll avoid the generic track by track breakdown because that format's not conducive to this type of music; Locrian have never written material that's easily separated from the whole. If someone were to randomly pick a track off this album to listen to, they could easily wind up with "The Visitation of the Wrath of Heaven", a song that's essentially a drum fill repeated for eight minutes. Or "Obsolete Elegies", the mammoth 15 minute long album closer.
One thing that's immediately obvious about this album is the atmosphere. In the past, especially on Territories, Locrian seemed like they were actively trying to make music that was confrontational, upsetting, or disturbing. Shrieking electronics and unintelligible vocals were not uncommon. That sort of stuff is still present on Return To Annihilation, but it's sprinkled around conservatively. That's not to say Locrian have gone mainstream, but Return To Annihilation definitely has broader appeal than anything they've done before. Current fans will still find plenty to like here, though; "Panorama of Mirrors" is as noisy and frightening as anything the group has done in the past, and "Obsolete Elegies" is a sprawling kaleidoscope of droning noise and black metal that's a unification of the group's major influences.
So, there's plenty here for current fans to enjoy, it's just that the familiar material is sandwiched between much more palatable compositions. The more accessible songs are still heavily informed by drone, but a prog influence is seeping into the work, too. There's a stronger focus on musicality over experimental noise as well.
The LP's title track demonstrates this new evolution toward melodiousness while still maintaining the unsettling darkness that's been present in the band's work from the beginning. The song opens with a repetitive guitar part and some echoing chanting that imparts an almost Middle Eastern vibe. After approximately two minutes of this, the trio dive in to a passage of Sunn O)))-style droning guitar riffs. Then Locrian finish off "Return To Annihilation" with a couple minutes of music that wouldn't be out of place on the new Deafheaven album. It's an interesting track and it encapsulates where the group started and where it may be headed in the future.
All in all this is a solid album and it's hard to imagine anyone interested in this style of music is going to be disappointed. Locrian's music can be hard to listen to at times, but it's always compelling. This new material successfully bridges the gap between experimental, academic metal and the more listener-friendly styles of the genre without abandoning the complexity and darkness that attracted their cult fan base. Return To Annihilation is out on June 25th via Relapse Records. You can preorder the album here, and stream the album opener, "Eternal Return" below.