Review Summary: The best metal (and folk) album of the year.Allelic
– a term referring to gene variants within the same chromosome that are responsible for different traits – could not be a more appropriate name for this Montreal-based solo project. Referred to only as the “Principal Investigator” on the artist’s official bandcamp website, the man effortlessly produces some of the most harrowing, hellish black metal you’ll hear only to turn around minutes later espousing lush, flourishing indie-folk from the Garden of Eden. It’s impressive to witness two opposite worlds of music overlap in such stunning harmony; a seamless welding. The Smoke of Atavistic Fires
is the full-length debut album of this project, and it is the already the best metal (and folk) album of the year.
The term genre-bending
gets thrown around far too often, but here the praise is befitting. ‘In Blissful Ignorance’ kicks off this five-track, roughly forty minute expedition, and it’s the most obvious display of Allelic’s multifaceted arsenal. Washing in on the sound of a gentle current, the ten minute epic begins in serene fashion: steel string plucks, solemn humming, and a harmonica. As the song progresses, heavier drums and electric riffs roll in, along with the far away growls of the lead vocalist. By the middle of the song they’re no longer distant, hovering over you like an imminent darkness that comes crashing down – all while majestic guitar riffs knife through the atmosphere like bolts of lightning. Suddenly, after a ten second transition that somehow manages to be totally organic, the sky clears and rays of sunshine poke through again: wave-like acoustic chords are overlaid with gorgeous picking, and it’s like we’re transported back to a summer meadow with sunflowers blooming and dandelion seeds floating through the air. The track weaves back into black metal territory one more time before fading to a jig-like amalgamation of harmonicas, strings, booming baritone, and melodic electric guitars. Such is the nature of The Smoke of Atavistic Fires
, an album that somehow captures the extreme realms of folk, metal, and everything in between.
One surprising aspect of this record is just how accessible it sounds. Most stylistic fusions are not achieved so gracefully, but The Smoke of Atavistic Fires
sounds poised and decisive at all times. The production is immaculate across the board, allowing every note to shimmer without sacrificing the raw earthiness
that is so vital to its existence. The result is a set of songs that breathe comfortably within their own spaces, but also function cohesively as a whole. It allows for the heaviest moments – such as the unhinged drumming and growling presented on ‘Within a Decaying Vessel’ – to coincide fluently with the crackling hearth and airy atmosphere that commences its immediate follow-up, ‘As Stars Shimmer Upon The Ritual.’ Even as that track begins with romantic and intimate imagery, it still has the wherewithal to gradually gather steam and coalesce into a monstrous sounding crescendo of ghoulish screams and complex riffing. There isn’t a song here that feels limited in its scope.
The most succinct representation offered is most likely ‘The Transformation’, a microcosm of the simultaneous beauty and intensity that runs rampant across The Smoke of Atavistic Fires
’s vast soundscape. In just over five minutes, we’re rocked with some of the heaviest drumming on the album, the vocalist’s death growls, some upbeat acoustic picking/strumming, eerie strings, and forsaken cathedral chants. It would make for an excellent and digestible single, if ever there was one, to represent this project’s solo outing. The entire experience gently fades out to pristine acoustic guitars and the familiar sound of songbirds on ‘Elusive Prayers For An Absent God’, which ultimately serves as something closer to an extended outro than a standalone pillar. Still, it’s a reminder of the refined charm that lurks beneath this album’s often menacing surface, poking its head out just often enough to remind us that peace and hope exist.
The Smoke of Atavistic Fires
is a sweeping, monumental success. The duality of its makeup is alluring, but it’s the impeccable songwriting quality and complexity that keeps the journey consistently anchored in excellence. The near flawless production also affords the experience a gleam that few underground bands can revel in. This project’s debut can be enjoyed in solitude, overlooking a breathtaking geographical landscape – or in a thunderstorm, watching the world take a beating from forces too majestic and powerful to comprehend. No matter what, it feels like a score written for that precise moment. It’s one man, who has meticulously captured the collision of two equally captivating worlds: an Allelic
classic for sure.