Originally released independently in 2016, Unraveling; Arising is the debut full length of Olympia’s With the End in Mind. The project is the sole vision – if not quite sole execution – of Alex Freilich, and while it has a bit of a style-over-substance issue at times, it still manages to be among the more listenable and occasionally downright entrancing albums of the whole Cascadian black metal thing released in recent years.
This is perhaps a partial benefit of the style being somewhat less saturated than it was even at the time of the album’s original release, and particularly so just a few years prior to that. To say that the Weakling- and Wolves in the Throne Room-indebted style was saturated is a gross understatement; there was a 100-year flood and the levees were gone. But over the last few years, tastes for the “naturalized side” of black metal have shifted more to the Americana- (and let’s not lie, melodeath-)infused Panopticon brand, so what With the End in Mind is doing might be met with hungrier ears.
As mentioned, the pure substance of the songwriting isn’t always the most nuanced. Much of it is an exercise in trading off WITTR/Weakling black metal passages with soft, minimal stretches of clean guitar, keys, and ambient sounds. Things are helped somewhat by the quality of these stretches; the blackened moments are given a bit of an Eastern Euro feel through low-fi keys and that extra touch of melancholy, while the soft passages are successfully drifty. But even more beneficial is the album’s inherent lushness. The production is impeccable, with no one element hogging the spotlight but blending into the gray whole, while being of particular benefit to the times when With the End in Mind isn’t swapping out the loud and the soft, but finding a space in between.
Chief among these, and the album’s finest moment, is the title track. Like other songs, its soft start is distant and drenched in sorrow, but when the metal guitars come in, they don’t do so among a torrent of blasts, but as frigid background riffs. These lines, while undeniably cold, are quite different than what you’d expect when comparing black metal to the cold. The violent, razor-sharpness of Dissection this is not; rather, it is like watching time-lapse photography of the freezing of a waterfall. Metaphorically chilling in more than one way.
If With the End if Mind is going to take that next step, the title track of Unraveling; Arising will be the greatest point upon which to build. It is a gorgeous song, and while nothing else on the album is remotely bad, this is the one moment in which Freilich achieves real greatness. He is currently walking down well-trod paths, to be sure, but this is neither an inherent flaw nor a sign of things to come. The potential exists for greater achievements both on and off of this path. As the project exists now (or existed in 2016), it’s more promising than essential, but it’s damn listenable nonetheless.