Typically, a black and white photo of a lone band member looking frustrated, downtrodden, solitary, and/or confrontational gives way to thoughts of minimalistic raw black metal – the type of music made by one person, for one person. Stielas Storhett, however, is something else entirely. On sophomore effort Expulsè, visionary / vocalist / multi-instrumentalist / grumpy-lookin’-dude Damien T.G. weaves a tapestry that – while no less cold – finds a way to be welcoming and at times downright catchy. It may be the creation of one, but there is nothing at all isolated or introverted going on here.
This difference is immediately apparent. To start, Expulsè eschews a pure black metal approach in favor of a prevailing dark metal wind. Initial thoughts are of the more blackened tones of Code’s Resplendent Grotesque, but the forward rock momentum, catchy riffs and somber tones combine to something between Merkur-era Klabautamann and what modern Katatonia might sound like as a black metal band. Complex, dynamic song arrangements run the gamut from soft, acoustic-and-whisper passages to soaring tremolo harmonies, all while maintaining that calculated mix of frosty blackened hues (harsh vocals and the rhythm guitar tone) and a slightly depressive aura.
The absolute linchpin of Expulsè is Damien’s near Insomnium-level knack for infectious leads and melodies. A major theme in “Buried by Storm and Darkness” teases, returns, and then cashes in on its hook with an ascent, returning at a key time later with a perfect harmony and intense rhythmic support. “All Paths Lead to Oblivion” spends a good amount of time building with harmonized double-picked leads that eventually slam right into a massive hit of syncopated drums and a simple, melting guitar line. In truth, moments from any song could be listed, as these hooks and progressions permeate the entirety of Expulsè.
Stielas Storhett’s ability to keep things interesting at every turn is aided by a deft understanding of light-to-dark relationships and album flow. For example, the serene “Hush-a-bye” comes and goes naturally without having to blatantly announce its presence as an interlude. And after the insanely addictive “Two Lifeless Months,” a touch of introspection is wisely added with the relatively calm title track and epic closer “Angel of Death.” Both also add bits of seamlessly integrated saxophone, a carefully designed detail in an album full of them, and a cool reminder just how smooooooooth this album is at times.
Expulsè is the very definition of a hidden treasure, one that I nearly missed out on. A fellow team member here asked me to handle it because of time constraints, and it turns out that relief duty was a blessing in disguise, as Expulsè is really a beaut – a wonderfully written, naturally performed, and meticulously crafted one-man beaut. Projects like Stielas Storhett help to remind us that things are not always what they seem, there is always more to discover, and because of this the thrills will never stop. And by thrills, I mean the kind that Tits McGee there on the album cover seems to be having.