Yellow Eyes came to the metal world’s collective attention primarily through their outstanding third album Sick With Bloom. With this release, the band sought to meld the cold, overwhelmingly bleak stylistic tropes of the second wave of black metal with a pastoral, naturalistic aesthetic and succeeded in damn near every regard. The incorporation of field recordings and the band’s more atmospheric instrumental leanings all congealed into a black metal tour de force that became increasingly more enjoyable with each subsequent listen. That album grew on me like a weed over the course of a few months, and ended up being one of my favorites of 2015. Following up such a career-defining moment is a monumental task for any band, but here we are in 2017 with a new Yellow Eyes record on our hands. With Immersion Trench Reverie, Yellow Eyes approach the demands of following up an innovative and successful record by focusing, unsurprisingly, on the things that made their last album such an immense success. But this is no mere carbon copy. Immersion Trench Reverie is an exceptional example of a band building upon a solid foundation to create something of even richer quality without losing in any way what made them special in the first place.
For the uninitiated, Yellow Eyes tread the delightfully murky sonic waters of traditional and atmospheric black metal. This balance is accomplished through a melding of particularly potent elements. First, the powerful rhythm section consisting of Mike Rekevics’ expert drumming and engaging bass work by Alex DeMaria. Surrounding this rhythmic core is the jagged, angular guitar work and impassioned vocals by the Skarstad brothers, which are coupled with field recordings that heighten the band’s naturalistic bent to Wolves In the Throne Room levels of gentle grandeur. It’s a sonic recipe that could spell disaster in less capable hands, but thanks to uniformly strong musicianship and keen songwriting ability, the band pull off this mixture of sounds and textures with remarkable skill and passion. But the band already nailed this sound in their previous record. What’s left to mine? If we’re to believe what we hear in Immersion Trench Reverie, loads and loads of premium black metal.
In many ways, Immersion Trench Reverie serves as a sonic bridge directly to its predecessor, which is a theme throughout the record and is worth special mention. The key ingredients to the band’s sound as established in Sick With Bloom are all here: angular riffs, thundering yet muted drums, and atmosphere galore. But what the band does here is develop all of those elements to their next logical step by enhancing emphasis on a few key components of their sound. The guitars here are sharper, the drums more pronounced, and the field recordings are more deeply entrenched in these songs, creating more lush textures than were present in Sick With Bloom. Essentially, Yellow Eyes are essentially doing themselves one better, recognizing the elements that make them special and honing them into a sharpened blade of gorgeous, ethereal black metal.
That isn’t to say everything here is traversing familiar ground. The juxtaposition of fresh and familiar is evident in the album’s first track, “Old Alpine Pang”, which shares immediate compositional similarities to the opening title track of their previous record. Both tracks begin with a field recording (in an interesting twist, both tracks use portions of the same recording), both are over the seven-minute mark, and each introduce their guitars early before thundering drums slay the listener with some premium blasting. Seems pretty repetitious at first glance. But “Old Alpine Pang” soon reveals itself to be its own beast, particularly in the rhythm section, where the drums sound both forceful and like they are being played from inside a giant’s pocket. There’s a muted understatement to the production of this entire record that is both immediately noticeable and creates a unique and singular environment that few other bands are able to accomplish through their production choices. Some interesting songwriting decisions also begin to take shape as the album progresses, highlighting in particular the band’s maturation and increased patience. Many of the songs on this record allow lots of sonic headroom, and don’t feel as suffocating as much modern black metal often feels. “Blue as Blue” and “Shrillness in the Heated Grass” display admirable restraint in regard to song development and instrumental performance, allowing these songs to gradually develop and breathe in a more natural and languid way. The band also incorporates more variety in instrumentation, incorporating acoustic passages, like the gorgeous opening of “Jubilat”, and some stunning female vocal harmonies, such as those that grace the end of the aforementioned tracks “Blue” and “Shrillness”. On the whole, these songs are longer, the atmosphere thicker and more beautiful, and the instrumentation more diverse. It all makes for an even more contemplative and deliberate listen than we are accustomed to from this band.
And that, ultimately, is its charm. The core tenets of the band’s success have not gone anywhere, but have instead deepened and expanded, creating an even more moving and powerful experience. Yellow Eyes are a truly remarkable band, and Immersion Trench Reverie is at this point their most complete and defining statement of intent, as well as their best record to date. Fans of black metal of all shades and shapes should take heed: Yellow Eyes are here to stay, and we would all be better off jumping aboard this train immediately.
Immersion Trench Reverie was released on October 20th through Gilead Media, and is available on all streaming services and for purchase through the band’s Bandcamp page.