Review Summary: You got your epic progressive rock in my black metal!
What is a musical indulgence? We often throw around this word “indulgent” to describe music and we usually understand what it means. It calls to mind Roger Waters bringing in the children's choir, or the “Moby Dick” drum solo.
When we say indulgent, we usually mean that an artist has given into their impulses, declared “more is better” and probably have forgotten the basics. But all musical growth of any kind could be characterized as an indulgence of some sort or another.
Bo Diddley indulged his need to play fast and loose, just as Kool Herc indulged his love of R&B breaks. Of course, not every indulgence begets a whole new genre, and that's where greek band Hail Spirit Noir comes into the picture. They attempt to usher in an era of Black 'n' Roll but fall just markedly short.
What is clear about Hail Spirit Noir before two minutes of Pneuma have passed is that they are seriously weird. When a black metal band does anything with a xylophone, the message is obvious: we are not another single-minded black metal band. And for the most part, Hail Spirit Noir pull off a tricky balancing act; marrying the straightforward tremolo riffs of black metal with an ever-present organ; you got your blackened metal in my classic rock, to use an awful analogy.
Unfortunately, the biggest problem with marrying all of these excesses together is that sometimes you're left with a mess, or even worse, something that feels like a bad joke. When singer Theoharis growls on the track “Let Your Devil Come Inside”: “Kill your mother / while you're still in her womb” it is hard not to laugh at the silliness of it. I am not sure if these guys are earnest Satanists or more like ironic tricksters, though the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
What is no joke is the chops these players all posses. It is hard not to marvel at their breakneck transition from melodic folk to prog-rock epicness to metal pummeling and back again. It truly is an incredible panache of extreme music.
It is no secret that these guys are avid fans of the '70s. Their roots are firmly entrenched in the tight musicianship of acts like Yes and later-day Budgie. Name a jazzy, “indulgent” prog band, and Hail Spirit Noir probably shares some legacy with them. If that grand lineage is too pompous for you, you should look elsewhere.
The standout track is also the longest and most “prog” by far, “Into the Gates of Time.” If you were looking for all of the band's calling cards in one track, you needn't look anywhere else. If you're immediately put off by melodic crooning in a metal song, I understand the impulse; it often seems like a softening of what is far from a palatable sound. But no one will accuse Hail Spirit Noir of following any instinct besides the one to create, and perhaps the one to destroy that which came before.
Hail Spirit Noir has not written their epic just yet: this is a relatively short work that hopefully hints at the talent yet to be unleashed. If Hail Spirit Noir can master their dual loves of black metal and prog and do so with even more wit, they will produce a masterwork. For right now, be happy with the 37 minutes of mostly awesome Black 'n' Roll we do get.