Review Summary: Anything and everything pertaining to black metal
Black metal has undeniably stepped forward into the limelight of late. In terms of both quality and quantity, 2014 has seen some of the best releases the genre has offered up in past years, and black metal has arguably never been more appealing to newcomers. With artists like Lord Mantis and Darkspace releasing impressive albums to cater for specific niches, and perfect entry-point albums like Saor’s Aura
and Cormorant’s Earth Diver
, the genre is reaching an accessibility peak. Progressive elements, folk instruments and melodic passages pervade many new releases, and stray far from the origins of the genre. However, once in a blue moon, an artist can be found who is capable of distilling this plethora of styles into a cohesive whole. Nihilus Ayloss is the sole songwriter and instrumentalist here, and III
is the culmination of everything he has worked towards since commencing work under the Spectral Lore moniker. Cherry picking from every facet of the genre, Ayloss has succeeded in taking a snapshot of black metal in its entirety; the biting cold of winter, the unbridled intensity of its origins, a mixture of classic lo-fi sound with crystalline production of the new age, and tempering it all with the beauty of its affiliated genres.
Charging out of the gates, Disc 1 (dubbed ‘Singularity’) opens with ‘Omphalos’, the most typical black metal track on offer. 3 straight minutes of intense blastbeats and guttural growls are followed by a menacing wash of white noise, where the track winds to its conclusion with slow-burning melodic leads atop Ayloss’ despair-ridden wails. This is the only track that really lends itself to opening such an album, sitting at a runtime of 7:29 and being the only song to stay within single-digit minutes, easing the listener into the album. By contrast, ‘The Veiled Garden’ indicates the direction the remainder of the album will follow. Covering more ground in a single track than many albums do in their entirety, it winds through tremolo-picked melodies, crushing doom sections, ambience, acoustic fingerpicking and an awe-inspiring lo-fi build beginning at 9 minutes and leading to the most intense black-metal climax of the year at 14 minutes. Once this track fades away with a soft repetitive folk segment, it raises the question; can the remainder of this album maintain this degree of variety? The most extraordinary thing is not only does the album meet these raised expectations, it often surpasses them.
To name any single track as the highlight would be a disservice to the masterpiece Ayloss has crafted here. Every single song can stand on its own two feet, but most importantly, every track contributes to the album. From the brooding folk of ‘Drifting through Moss…’, to the walls of cold tremolo riffing throughout ‘The Spiral Fountain’ and even the spacey electronic ambience that opens the final song, everything fulfils a role and nothing appears misplaced. This is a real achievement for an album with such broad ambition, and even factoring in elements like the triumphant near-symphonic cheese in Disc 2 (dubbed ‘Eternity’) and 25+ minutes of strictly instrumental tracks, it doesn’t sound forced. All of these divergent influences are finely woven together and played off each other with finesse. The highlights of the album don’t come down to which songs were more carefully composed; it’s simply about personal preference.
Strangely enough, the single flaw in this 90 minute behemoth is that there is simply too much content for such a short runtime. Despite spanning the length of two discs, the depth and variety on display here warrant a far greater length, and cause the albums greatest asset to also act as its most debilitating weakness. It is rare for a double album to be derided as rushed, but the concepts at work here could have been spread across two or even three albums, and resulted in a more digestible final product with less labyrinthian compositions. With more space to flesh out the album, taking the time to articulate his ideas carefully could have easily resulted in the best black metal album of the decade thus far. And who knows, possibly the best of the 21st century, it’s that good.
This is an outstanding release for the year, the artist and the genre as a whole. III
doesn’t represent everything black metal stands for, but it encompasses everything black metal has become. Those well-versed with the genre will undoubtedly find some aspect to love because the appeal is so wide-reaching, yet those who are not so avid can still appreciate the myriad faces Ayloss assumes to present his musical vision to the listener. III
exceeds any expectations set by previous albums and stands head and shoulders above its compatriots in terms of songwriting, technical ability and ambition. This is the most impressive black metal album of 2014, and a testament to what the genre is capable of given the right mindset and a willing hand.