Our on-again-off-again Four to Score series typically features four reviews of albums we may have missed, each by a different member of the Last Rites staff.
This time? All from yours truly, and all quick looks at bands taking a different road to their black metal destination. That the style has been taken in wildly different directions over the past few decades is well known, but it can still be interesting to see how different groups of talented musicians mold their craft.
These four releases all come with a certain appeal, but also with a particular caveat, related to things as differing as album pacing to target audience. To find that or them which might be in your particular wheelhouse, read on:
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SARGEIST – FEEDING THE CRAWLING SHADOWS
Label: W.T.C. Productions
By finding a killer midpoint between Taake’s melodic sensibilities and Tsjuder’s icepick brutality, Sargeist easily sounds more Norwegian than anyone else featured here, despite hailing from Finland. Coming off a thickly-produced scorcher in Let the Devil In, Sargeist seemed primed to find an expanded audience, but in a move that might seem curious to some, Feeding the Crawling Shadows completely re-necro-tized the production, resulting in a (killer) album focused solely at their niche market.
Not just content with adjusting the studio treatment, Sargeist also removed the single ounce of fist-pumping provided on Let the Devil In. This does not, however, mean that Feeding the Crawling Shadows is any less immediate than its predecessor. Quite the contrary; the band’s insane knack for infectious riffage and chilling tremolo lines means that nearly every track exudes excellence. Telling the tracks apart may prove difficult to some listeners, but by finishing the album off with some of its strongest material, the band ensures that there is at least some arc to be found.
It probably goes without saying that Feeding the Crawling Shadows has about zero crossover appeal. Sargeist’s switch to a very raw production ensures that this is very much a black metal fan’s black metal album. But in no way did narrowing their market base lower their musical acumen. Despite displaying an almost complete lack of dynamics over the course of the album’s 47 minutes, Feeding the Crawling Shadows still ought to appeal greatly to many of a frosty fan that has purity in mind.
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INFESTUS – THE REFLECTING VOID
Location: Austria via Germany
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Release date: 4/25/2014
In stark contrast to the monochromatic rawness of Sargeist is The Reflecing Void, full length number four from Infestus. Do-it-all man Andras offers a sleek, melodic-yet-aggressive, slightly proggy take on the genre. Lush yet epic, musically adept but never exactly technical, and at times almost catchy, The Reflecting Void really pulls off the familiar-but-not vibe.
Mostly, however, the Infestus form of black metal is dynamic, as the multifaceted levels of monstrous album linchpin “Cortical Spreading Darkness” prove. Whether it is softer passages with whispered vocals, layered interplays between drums and lead parts, icy tremolo riffs, or hints of atmospheric prog, The Reflecting Void almost always has something fresh around the corner. But even through the touches of doom, the shades of melancholy, and the brushes with Insomnium-ish melodeath, the blackness is always the unifying thread, particularly when the album reaches full intensity. And it is in these moments, such as during “Inner Reflexion,” that the music is at its best.
Across all of the shifts and dynamic swells, Infestus is a seriously refined project, and the level of polish – both to the song structures and studio treatment – will earn Andras a lot of deserving ears. However, if one had to make a knock on the album, it is that it too rarely hooks in the listener with something outright mesmerizing, typically falling within the realm of the “very good.” Is this perhaps grasping for a minor nitpick on an album that will likely be far more than simply pleasing to a large portion of our readership? Maybe, but it is a valid nitpick nonetheless.
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Label: Bleak Recordings
Release date: 4/24/2014 (2/28/2013 on Cal of Ror Records)
The inclusion of Switzerland’s Rorcal in this article might be curious to those who know the band, as their past has mostly been in composing lengthy (70+ minute) doom/sludge albums, not black metal. I wouldn’t know, as Világvége is my first exposure to the band. What I do know is that here the band’s main weapon is heavy, saturated black metal, only showing their doom side on a few tracks.
Unfortunately, by leaning on their doom from the start, getting to the meat of the album is a chore. A pointless drum intro and the ensuing “D” – a monotonous, forgettable blackened doom track – combine to give the album a very skip-worthy first 14 minutes.
The silver lining? After that, Rorcal gets serious. With the third track (named “II”—all of the songs here are out-of-order Roman Numerals), the band lays into some dense, inescapable black metal. The heft still carries the doom, but the swarming, polluting vibe is all blackened, as are the flutters and blasts. Even when the album takes on some atmosphere (“V”), it’s hard to ignore just how close everything feels, and diversions into choral/orchestrated interludes only serve to make the harsh dissonances of the black metal that much more caustic. When the band reintroduces their down tempo side later in the album, it is a far more layered, interesting representation, not to mention a fitting ending.
The slow start hurts. Is it damning? No, but it turns what could have been a very cool 30 minute album into merely a pretty good 45 minute one. In other words, might not be the best vinyl investment.
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EPISTASIS – LIGHT THROUGH DEAD GLASS
Location: United States
Label: Crucial Blast
Release date: 4/1/2014
Of the four approaches to black metal presented here, that of Epistasis is the one that would feel most at home on Zeitgeister Records. While that is an over-generalization of their unique, oddball sound, a lot of the riffage certainly gives off a Valborg-as-black metal feel. The low levels of guitar gain help to give even the EP’s twitchiest moments (and it gets twitchy) a rubber-edged effect. Berserk, blasty, and almost lackadaisically heavy. Also, there’s a trumpet.
But the Zeity similarities stop there. Light Through Dead Glass is an oft-techy, mildly noisy, certainly prog-minded brand of black metal, and at times just kind of endearingly strange. Much of the vitriol stems from Amy Mills’ incredibly harsh, upper register shrieks, which are nothing short of jarring when juxtaposed next to her ambient, atonal use of the trumpet. Some great guitar-bass interplay (loads of off-kilter, almost catchy riffs) and top notch drumming from Pyrrhon’s Alex Cohen certainly help to solidify the songs, but it is really the EP’s ability to flow as a whole that truly hammers down the quality. Ending with its strongest track – “Gown of Yellow Stars,” complete with weirdo guitar solo – also doesn’t hurt.
It isn’t all completely effective – the long stretches of ambience and sudden bursts of rage in “Witch” feel less than completely fleshed out – but the majority of Light Through Dead Glass is quite unique, and often thrilling. It will be interesting to see how their sound works when stretched out over a long player, but for now, let’s just enjoy this rad, atypically fun little EP.