The day I first listened to Petrale’s new album, Salvation Precipitates, was also the day that I read a Substack newsletter from Phil Freeman about the Swedish band Air Raid. Freeman is a journalist whose writing about jazz I admire deeply, and whose opinions on metal are often wildly different from my own. The part that got me thinking about Petrale goes (in part) like this: “Over the last few decades, a lot of metal has become, for lack of a better word, joyless… [A] whole lot of metal musicians just don’t seem to be having much fun making their art, and the art they make isn’t a whole lot of fun, either.” (Read the full post here.)
Petrale is a one-man black metal project from Croatia, and Salvation Precipitates is his seventh album (with one album released each year beginning in 2017). With the exception of some collaboration on cover art (and songwriting on two pieces), Petrale handles every single aspect on the album, including all vocals, instruments, recording, mixing, and mastering. Without putting words in Freeman’s mouth, I suspect that Petrale’s superficially grim insularity might fall into his “not a whole lot of fun” category, and yet Salvation Precipitates in fact spills over with inventive songwriting, thoughtful lyrics, and downright playful musicianship.
The album opens in what seems like a fairly typical fashion with unaccompanied tremolo guitar tracing out minor chords, gradually joined by additional guitar layers until a single drum hit then a pause for a rasped vocal exhortation. When the drums introduce the song in earnest, though, they are a spry breakbeat, played with an unexpectedly light touch. Petrale’s guitar tone is a relatively clean, thin midrange, full and clear enough to spotlight the twisting and sometimes dissonant riffing, but transparent enough to allow an even balance with the bass, drums, and vocals.
In fact, the bass guitar is a big part of what gives Salvation Precipitates the feeling of a serious musician not taking himself too seriously. At about 3:44 of the opening track, the bass introduces a sweetly funkified lick that wouldn’t sound out of place in a song by the Meters, but it only lasts about four bars before the guitar takes over with a variation of that same line. The sparseness of the opening section of “Bring On the Sulphur” allows the plump, swinging bass to lead in a way that feels a little like hall-of-fame Norwegian weirdos Ven Buens Ende.
Throughout the album, even when songs whip themselves into a frantic sprint, and even in the guitar’s most dissonant cartwheels, Petrale’s intent never seems to be to overwhelm the listener with sheer density. That can be an effective element, but too many bands use dissonance and density as their goal rather than as a means to a particular end. Around the 2:30 mark of “The Silent Owl,” for example, there’s a dissonant, off-kilter break, but it quickly pulls back into a brief, calm midsection that sounds a little bit like Slint under the influence of Velvet Cacoon.
The harsh, elongated vocal lines are the most “normal” black metal aspect of Petrale’s sound, but their tone is caustic and impassioned without descending into histrionics. It feels notable that most of the bands of whom I’ve been reminded while listening to Salvation Precipitates are bands who, themselves, are nearly a category of one: Virus, Furia, Negative Plane, Bergraven, Malokarpatan, Onirik. Occasionally the spooky but non-theatrical vibe feels of a piece with Tribulation’s The Formulas of Death or Morbus Chron’s Sweven, and Petrale’s woozy guitar bends are a distant cousin to Blut Aus Nord’s The Work Which Transforms God, but Petrale feels like a unique synthesis of sounds rather than some sort of patchwork tribute.
I cannot say with certainty whether Petrale had fun making this excellent album, but two moments in particular bolster my confidence. First, “Sad će sve fermat” starts off in a loping two-step, but then just after the 1:30 mark things shift into a shuffling boogie that, however briefly, makes me think about a corpse-painted ZZ Top. Second is the patient, roiling slow-burn of album closer “There It Is / Spas,” which features a glowingly huge presence from the bass throughout. Around the three-minute mark everything steps back into a spacious but twitchy passage. As it builds back up, the bouncing, almost disco-style bass lick that comes in around five minutes weaves the song together like something out of Aluk Todolo’s incredible Voix. That bass continues to morph and palpate, undergirding a delightful passage of dual tremolo guitar which marks an understated but no less triumphant climax to a smartly crafted, intricately performed, and devilishly fun album.