Review Summary: I said 'engaging' in regards to a black metal album and I meant it!
Black metal fundamentals often cavort about with the stylings of a vast array of other genres to empower the aspiring musical fusionist to create something either tediously time-worn or refreshingly striking. Mess around with your distortion and dreamify your vocals with a bit too much disingenuous intent and you’ll end up yet another dusty Alcest copy. Dial back the depressive atmosphere and defibrillate the bassist’s pulse and you could have a black n’ roll classic worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Kvelertak. Simply put, there’s a fine line between success and failure when forgoing the traditional BM path for the harrowing, unforgiving waters of BM fusion. You might strike gold and construct an album that not only blends styles and defines a new subgenre on Metal Archives but also gets a rave review from Fantano. Alternatively, your precious little EP could be destined at most for a scant five seconds of fame on a Sput user’s “Non-elevator music black metal” list, no matter how much time your TaskRabbit graphic designer spent on the somehow out of focus gothic castle gracing your front cover.
This all being said, of course, the most successful black metal albums of this past decade have tended to be those that have pushed the boundaries and incorporated elements of other genres in their bleak soundscapes. In the interest of not burying the lede I won’t say "The Eye is the First Circle" is a genre-defining behemoth to rival Deafheaven, Agalloch, or other BM-influenced stalwarts of the scene. Calligram rely a bit too much on tremolo to add mood/atmosphere/any vestige of emotion to tracks on this record, and while the high-pitched trve screams are executed quite to perfection, I would have liked to hear a bit more of the lower growls that creep up occasionally (“Un Dramma Vuoto E Insanabile”, “Kenosis”) if only for variety’s sake. Despite this, the album is a ruthless, depressive, and often vigorous display of black metal-cum-hardcore-cum doom-cum sludge (take that, Sput genre gods!). Aforementioned tremolo reliance aside, each track brims with negative, desolate, and even anxious energy. Said doom and sludge elements heighten the album’s dark atmosphere, breeding a moody aura that permeates most of the tracks in defiance of Calligram’s avowed hardcore leanings.
That’s not to say TEITFC should be shelved away with sadboi BM by any means - you can bet your corpsepaint there are plenty of dynamic song structures on display here; in fact, the down- or midtempo sections serve to accentuate the band’s hardcore influences and amplify the chaos (“Anedonia” is a prime example of this juxtaposition). Calligram simultaneously acknowledge their roots and underscore their musical development with this record. It’s a tumultuous and engaging listen from end to end, bolstered by the intelligent use of the band’s influences as it pummels the listener with a variety of molasses-thick chugs, punky riffs (“Serpe”), and delicious drum fills. Calligram aren’t breaking entirely new ground here, and I might expect their next release to dial back the experimentation and solidify sonically a bit more, but TEITFC firmly lands on the ‘successful’ side of BM genre experimentation.