originally written by Chris McDonald
I was more relieved than a fat kid who got out of gym class when I found out that Southern Lord was finally re-releasing the lone Lurker Of Chalice album on CD format. While Wrest’s flagship project Leviathan has at least earned its due respect in cult black metal circles, it seems like this unusual LP flew under everyone’s radar when it first came out, and it’s about time it got the attention it deserves.
Originally released in 2005, Lurker Of Chalice sees Wrest exploring an interesting sort of grey area between black metal, ambient, and goth rock, with the results sounding like something else altogether. The atmospheres are just as bleak and morbid as Leviathan, but the raw intensity often utilized in that project is toned down in favor of much dreamier, more subdued soundscapes. The guitars churn out a seamless medley of blackened tremolo melodies, chilling ambience, and dramatic clean strumming, and have that murky tone to them that has come to be one of my favorite trademarks of Wrest‘s music. Most of the instrumentation is fairly downbeat and simplistic compared to the complex ferocity of Lurker’s sister project, and the vocals here (which have gotten their criticism in the past) generally consist of little more than Wrest speaking through his ever-present distortion effects. But the range and impact of these songs is anything but “simple.”
Just like Leviathan’s best releases, Wrest manages to pack a lot of variety into the nine tracks presented here as well as make the album feel coherent and whole throughout (a rare talent, to be sure). But the real strength of this work is how sincere and tangible the emotions feel in these songs. From the first track to the last, Lurker Of Chalice is a mesmerizing journey through the deepest, darkest levels of despair and emptiness. The more laid-back tempos and spoken-word vocals allow the listener to really lose themselves in the depressing folds of the music, and it’s nothing short of a powerful experience for those in the right mindset. The haunting riffs on songs like “Piercing Where They Might” sound fairly similar to something you’d hear on a Leviathan recording, but the vibe here is a lot less chaotic and a lot more dreamy and hypnotizing–see the dreary ambience of “Spectre As Valkyrie Is,” the long somber dirge of “Minions,” and the genuinely unsettling “Paramnesia,” which sounds like a stoned-out nightmare set to music.
The twosome of “This Blood Falls As Mortal (Part III)” and “Granite” really defines the intent of this work. The movie sample at the beginning of the former (I wish I knew from what film, hint hint) is almost overwhelming in the feelings of hopelessness it conveys; from here Wrest takes the listener on a psychedelic voyage through layers of sorrowful riffs, brooding atmospherics, and depressive acoustic strumming that doesn’t sound the least bit jumbled or awkward. “Granite” then picks up with an especially memorable blend of airy tremolo melodies and beautifully haunting clean vocal passages. While shorter and more accessible than the rest of the tracks, the sheer melodic strength of “Granite” makes it the most memorable song on the album. His clean voice makes another appearance amidst the gloomy clean guitar and ethereal keyboards of “Vortex Chalice” before the trudging “Fastened To The Five Points” brings the album full circle. By the time you’ve finished spinning this, any thoughts of sunny fields and bouncing puppies should be quite far from your mind, to say the least.
It’s certainly no small statement to label an album “unique,” but the sound forged on Lurker Of Chalice is honestly quite unlike anything I’ve heard before. Aside from the skill at instrumentation and composition that we’ve come to expect from Wrest, the sheer emotional gravity of this release elevates it into a realm that is outside the reach of most depressing black metal bands. To fans of Leviathan or anyone who enjoys the dark and gloomy side of heavy metal, I highly recommend you pick up this groundbreaking work as soon as possible and give it the time needed to really sink in–an album this original, captivating, and powerful deserves nothing less.