Review Summary: Fuck up Ronald - Gandalf the Grey
In the world of fantasy inspired albums, a clear favourite comes in the form of Tolkien-ism's, namely in the vein of Summoning, Minas Morgul...yeah, you get the picture - especially in the world of black metal. Sometimes however, musicians step outside of these references with mixed, often forgettable results mixing up good intentions with eternal fandom. The problem largely comes in the form of media. Which series do musicians immerse themselves in, taking stories and lore while shaping them into a pleasing aural rendition of themselves? Do they take an already established, set in stone idea or do they take the wild and free, inserting their own artistic licences into a scene that didn’t ask for it? Are these stories strong enough to translate to music or should we just leave them the fu
ck alone? These dilemmas, these choices define the project and in turn gauge the overall end products success (or lack thereof). Enter California’s Slytherin, who construct black metal compositions based solely on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Wait! Don’t go.
There’s a chance I’ve probably lost some of my readers by now, but let’s face it - the band’s name is Slytherin...you’re already lined up, bought the tickets and donned an ugly hat...let’s see where this exhibit goes.
Butterbeer in hand, Slytherin takes us on a darker journey through Potter-lore - namely that of Voldemort, The Deathly Hallows and the secret love of one Severus Snape. It’s a journey that takes the listener on a journey of sorts and yet, somehow misses the clear cheesiness one would expect from a fantasy novel turned audiophile. A short introduction foreshadows “The Tale Of The Three Brothers”, and while the Hermione Granger read tale prefaces a world of cringe, there’s a sensible displacement of cheese utilising a down to earth build. The atmosphere relies on a whimsical, almost dreamy transposition of synth and black metal aesthetic. Kind of like listening to a raw black metal album...that isn’t “raw”. Simple melodies permeate through the speakers, coupled with phrased shrieks and clear synth work. It’s a feature that dominates the most part of the Slytherin soundscape allowing the music to ebb and flow naturally, without forcing the point or contextual motif. It’s this belated subtlety that carries the listener from one end to the other. When the Darkness Comes
enjoys this strong start without battering those who would embrace where this story will go.
As the record continues, strong themes interject themselves throughout the album, and still, the main melodic hook from the album’s earlier moments punches through the mix, providing the album's essential body with much needed backbone. By the time we reach the likes of “Wizards and Muggles”, which juxtaposes the apparent contrasts between the two societies, bringing wrath and conflict in tune with black metal dissonance and moments of tranquil bliss as the two communities settle into their own unknowing sectors. Slytherin keeps much of the same compositional themes as When the Darkness Comes
moves into its latter half. “Forbidden Forest” and “The Secret Of Bellatrix Lestrange” maintains the clear minor tones befitting the rather obvious atmosphere the album presents but it’s the nuance and gravitas of “True Love Of Severus Snape” that bridges the gaps between written context (namely, the story authored by that J.K. Rowling person) and the audio transference to which When the Darkness Comes
relies on. Despite the subtly inserted song-writing and synth led nuance a casual listener could be forgiven for thinking that Slytherin’s sophomore full-length is too similar, too one dimensional and largely, I’d agree. If not for the context given outside of the band, the context written and released to a world over When the Darkness Comes
would not have the same hold. Sure, it’s passable enough by itself but without the central Harry Potter themes the album is reduced to ringing synthesizers and a-typical black metal aesthetic.
Given that black metal itself draws inspiration from just about any theme, fantasy works included, it’s a light cop-out to write When the Darkness Comes
off for what it is without it. Despite this obvious criticism, it’s difficult to separate one from the other contextually without robbing Slytherin from their achievements here. To put it shortly; When the Darkness Comes
is a success, albeit not a greatly memorable one. When compared to other similar acts (like those who take Tolkien for inspiration) Slytherin doesn’t immediately fall short musically, a listener (given the right frame of mind) could close their eyes, and find themselves immersed in a world of Potter-core, standing in the Forbidden Forest as wind and (were)wolf-howls soar past. Although a stiff mead wouldn't hurt.