Candelabrum – Transmutations Review

So, the bad news first: I haven’t done my homework. Transmutations is Candelabrum’s fourth album, and I haven’t heard any of the other ones. I can’t compare Transmutations to any of the band’s other work, and I can’t even give you a nice read on how Candleabrum sits in relation to other acts from Portugal’s notably raw black metal scene (such as Black Cilice). If you’re wondering what has two thumbs and is a poor messenger for this review, stand next to me when I look in the mirror.

The good news is, an album like Transmutations is an invitation to live in the endless eternal present. Maybe that sounds like a cheap trick, as if I somehow deserve to be patted on the back for coming to this music without any history. But from the very first listen to Transmutations, its intoxicating mystique grabbed hold of me. The first thing you hear is a smear of synth and a simple drum beat, but moments later when the drums kick into standard – if beautifully controlled – blasts and the vocals attack with a pained yowl, those synths stay with you. In fact, across the taut 34 minutes of this album, there’s hardly a moment where those ominous, floating synth tones are absent.

Release date: April 25, 2024. Label: Altare Productions
What I like most about the album, though, is that it is not telling me how to listen. You know how some music is played, recorded, mixed, and balanced so precisely that your ears have nowhere to go except exactly where the music wants them to? Candelabrum’s music hovers. Each element of the music can work as foreground or background, but you get to choose. To say it another way, Transmutations is full of excellent songs, but what defines it as a tremendous listening experience is its absolutely unique atmosphere. The guitar riffs are excellent, the drumming is mostly understated, and the vocals – a curmudgeonly snarl – stagger on top, but each element pushes and pulls against each other. Transmutations is delightfully hypnotic at low volume and powerfully steamrolling at high volume.

Given that each of Candelabrum’s album covers shows a solitary figure, I have been assuming that this is a one-person project. Whether or not that’s the case, though, the music projects a profoundly solitary vision. Maybe the omnipresent synth is a spectral double, shadowing the protagonist’s travels. Always near, never seen. Oddly enough, several times while listening to the album I have found myself thinking of some of Miles Davis’s dankest, most hypnotic live sets from the mid-1970s (think Agharta/Pangaea or Dark Magus), where Davis would play a two- or three-note organ vamp, sparse and yet needling at the same time. Candelabrum doesn’t sound anything like jazz fusion, but there’s some kind of sympathetic mindset at work.

As I said, though, if you need more proximate context, I’m not your man. Transmutations should surely appeal to fans of recent Urfaust and Fluisteraars, but to me, the best argument in favor of this wonderful album is that it has such a fully realized atmosphere that it deserves to stand – if from a purely sonic rather than historical perspective – alongside such other luminous singularities as:

  • Blut Aus Nord, Ultima Thulee
  • Striborg, Spiritual Catharsis
  • The Cure, Faith
  • Darkthrone, Transilvanian Hunger
  • Drudkh, Autumn Aurora
  • Vemod, Ventor pa stormene
  • Joy Division, Closer
  • Velvet Cacoon, Genevieve

An album like Transmutations lives in the right-now. As you listen, you to the album and the album to you, you build a world together. It lasts barely 34 minutes and then it falls away, ghostly past of another future present.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

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