The first sound heard on The Ancient Spells Of The Past is the switching on and casual strumming of an electric guitar. It may seem a small, humble beginning, however, anyone who’s heard Nattens Madrigal knows the power of capturing the plug-in on record. While maybe not quite as urgent as the searing third album from the Norwegian legends, the debut album from Finland’s Korpituli does begin with a confident swagger as the electric haze around the guitar reverberates as though darkness testing the airs, the final light of the sun sinking below the horizon. And with a slight shift of the riff, “On Forgotten Paths” welcomes nightfall with a full ensemble at a labored, powerful mid-pace. The tremolo riffing shimmers across the radiant, twilit backdrop reflected on the album’s cover. There’s a coldness to it, yes, but not in the “icy-fjord” type of way: The chill that whispers goosebumps across the skin is the cool winds of the night: ghostly and haunted. Even when the song erupts into blast beats shortly after the 2:30 mark, the burst of energy still feels veiled, as though just outside the realms of psychokinesis. The tortured vocals furiously shred the dusty larynx of the dead, lashing out violently behind the thin curtains between worlds.
As the sun sinks further across the globe, so does the music. There’s this ever-descending feeling, particularly when the song reaches the mid-point. The full band fades out, cutting sharply as the lone guitar changes tack. Stars being to flicker in the night sky, represented by the soft glimmer of the synth melody–there’s a hell of a lot of Filosofem going on in the keys as well as the laborious doom tempo. Every element adds texture to the overarching sense of melody. Time alters–it certainly doesn’t feel like a nine and a half minute song. It’s hypnotic, and so easy to become lost in its rich, midnight tapestries as the night continues to close its drapes around the soundscape.
Coming down off of “On Forgotten Paths” is “At Nightfall.” It’s a moment of tranquility. Those eerie, starlit synths still glisten in the deep hues of the sky, but beyond the whispered mutterings of the vocals, only the running of water is heard otherwise. It adds to the escapism: The scent of the pines and their sticky bristles, the smoothness of stone weathered by erosion, the grit in the soil that keeps the roots firmly in the natural world as another wave of supernatural presence attempts to tear the screen between worlds. On “Longing For The Unheard,” that labored tempo returns, the spirits weighed down by their own torment. The cymbals rattle like the chains that bind them as they claw feverishly onward. Again, all is centered around the conjuring power of the guitar, the melodies glowing with the radiant cyanic energy on the cover. The vocals are layered, blending ritualistic incantation with the dry howls of the night spirits, climaxing with the rolling thunder of the kicks drums as the melody rocks and descends like a wave of light in the aurora borealis, glimmering off over the horizon.
And the starry synths glow a little brighter as night continues to envelope the world in darkness. A hush rolls out across the night.
The Burzum influence is again given a nod: The gloomy dots of synths that re-emerge in the inky sky bear a bit of resemblance to “Tomhet.” However, instead of being fourteen minutes of dungeon synth, with “Into The Magical Realm Of The Woods,” Korpituli slowly build and build upon the minimalism. What at first feels like another transition track erupts into a power dirge. The lead tremolo from the guitar still somehow finds that cool, reassuring chill in its melody as it glows through the din, and it’s clearly apparent: midnight has arrived.
If “Into The Magical Realm Of The Woods” is midnight, then the album’s title track, “The Ancient Spells Of The Past,” certainly represents three A.M. The sinister strums and ominous tempo feel possessed by the witching hour. That vocal dexterity comes into play again as Korpituli fill the soundscape with a menagerie of vocals: Moans and groans, growls and howls, shrieks and chants, wails and whispers all pop up around the verses, only to collide over the tense music in the chorus with a collective affirmation of the song’s title. The bridge plays out a surprisingly soft and beautiful melody, causing another wave of goosebump-inducing shivers to wash up the spine. The soft chime of the synths shine softly, ever the stars in the background while the afterglow of the song fades out into tranquility.
In the final hours before dawn, the spirits seem at ease. “Pale Homeward Souls” opens again with the guitar, gently fingerpicking a melody through the soft static. It’s a soothing melancholy that pairs with the whispered vocals breathed from the left, right, and center, as though surrounding the listener. Night’s final stand begins as the full band comes in with that steady march of doom. It’s a repetitious build–much less violent and immediate than on the prior tracks. It’s as though the first rays of dawn are creeping in. The vocal chants somberly surrender to their inevitable dismissal, only to re-emerge with the pressing of the play button.
The Ancient Spells Of The Past is, to simply put it, a beautiful debut. Korpituli walk a fine line between melancholy and aggressiveness. The atmosphere is gorgeous–it feels like another world. Not quite saccharine enough to be a dream, not aggressive enough to be a nightmare, Ancient Spells captures the best of the worlds that arise when the sun falls and the spirits roam free. A gentler, more nuanced study of the beauty in black metal with some real meat on the bones.