Expectations can be a prickly thing. When NONE's Life has gone on long enough was first previewed over at Invisible Oranges, I was genuinely enraptured. Lead single "Bed the cold earth" was a somber, contemplative, and suitably desolate experience. If that were a sign of things to come, NONE's sophomore record could've been a modern black metal gem. The music was appropriately thin and chilling but offered just enough melody and ambiance to counteract the biting emptiness. So there was a bit too much monotony in the riff department, but hey! This seemed like a record that would command serious attention.
Now that Life has gone on long enough is out, it's clear that…That's simply not the case. The Oregon duo's sophomore record does many things right. However, it is also the victim of more than a few egregious creative decisions and glaring inconsistencies that kill much of the album's potential. This is depressive suicidal black metal at its most taxing, and not in a good way.
NONE works best when they ease off the metallic elements and let the atmosphere flow freely. While "Bed the cold earth" loses some of its luster when listened to as part of the whole record, it's still an admirable representation of the NONE's strongest elements. The raw, tortured screaming and droning instrumentation work well enough. Yet, the music succeeds because its heavier elements deftly weave an expansive melody that easily pulls the listener in, despite the stark bleakness. Though these bits are present throughout the rest of the record, it’s no surprise that the best tracks interweave light and darkness. “Hypoxic,” “Corroded,” and "Bed the cold earth" are far and away the best examples of this.
Still, as occasionally gripping as these songs can be, they are not without their noticeable flaws. NONE’s harsh vocals are on point. Still, several tracks also extensively feature half-spoken, half-sung lyrics that are almost cringe-inducing in their amateurishness. The laid-back “Corroded,” which boasts a magnetically contemplative atmosphere, is also marred by some legitimately godawful fake—we can only assume, anyway—crying that defies all reason and threatens to single-handedly derail the sound. A handful of other songs are the victim of this too, and…It’s just awful. This worked for Silencer, but it absolutely falls flat here.
Repetitive instrumentation and pacing are hardly uncommon in this kind of music; depressive suicidal black metal often thrives on it in order to build hypnotic and engrossing soundscapes. Unfortunately, NONE crosses the line far too often. Lengthy sections on many of the record's songs just drag. They are marred by instrumentation that sounds sloppy and unprofessional rather than raw and emotive.
Even some of the record’s better material, such as “Hypoxic,” fall prey to this. The song is plagued by a grating, mystifyingly bad melodic riff that tries its damnedest to kill the song’s otherwise commendable ambiance and superb pace. Credit when due, because NONE’s ability—however inconsistent—to create strong atmosphere nonetheless salvages the track.
Other songs are not so fortunate. What’s yet to be mentioned are a few overlong tracks that feature one-note passages of static black metal or meandering quasi-interludes. They’re interspersed with some briefly interesting segments or separated by the record’s better songs. Again, it’s far from enough to save the album from sounding like more of a chore than a journey.
Aside from that horrendous crying, Life has gone on long enough is never so lacking to actively annoy. After about a dozen listens, some of the plodding, fuzzy repetitions begin to give way to some subtle melodies and little nuances that help counteract some of the record's weaker moments. However, it's all far from sufficient. Most of those subsequent spins were more tests of patience and attempts to unearth a few nuggets of positivity to justify my initial hype for the album. Would I have continued listening to this record if I wasn't obligated to review it? Probably not, and that's a pretty bad sign.
There's clear potential for greatness here, and perhaps the hype will be warranted for NONE's work in the coming years. That's the future though. Right now, when it's all said and done, NONE's latest record is average at best. Sadly, that just doesn't cut it in a genre that lives and dies on its ability to deeply immerse listeners.