Atmospheric black metal and medieval gothic artwork have a lot more in common than one would expect. The whole aesthetic of both is determined by a strict set of guidelines that must be adhered to, and more often than not, art from both is indiscernible in quality to the untrained ear/eye. The quality of a piece is not dependent on how experimental the nature of a piece is, nor on how much it refuses to adhere to the set rules. Whether or not a piece of atmospheric black metal or gothic art is good is related to how well the artist works within the established guidelines- how much they manage to imbue their art with their personal touch, and how much they manage to create fresh pieces within an almost-constrictive set of rules.

It is this that one must keep in mind when listening to an atmospheric black metal album; doubly so when reviewing it. The beauty of the always-ethereal, usually-long-winded style comes from how an artist plays within the guidelines and adds touches of originality to the music. Experimentation comes in odd forms: it comes through via playing with different tones and synthesizers or through unusual song structuring far more than it shows itself in the ‘traditional’ ways of experimentation, things like genre fusions and odd time signatures. On the debut album from one-man Greek atmospheric black metal project Tome of the Unreplenished, cleverly named Innerstanding, these touches are present alongside smart, consistently-strong songwriting throughout the 40-minute runtime, and because of them, this album is fresh and exciting.

Following the ambient intro of ‘Anima Mundi’, the first substantial track, ‘Take Me to the Stars’ bares all for the audience. Immediately starting off with bombastic drums and huge chords, this track has all of the spacey beauty the name would suggest. And here, showcased well, is the largest thing Innerstanding has going for it: the guitar leads. The chord progressions in of themselves are the same as every other atmospheric black metal album, but the leads have a powerful quality to them, cutting through the ambience and highlighting it simultaneously. The synths, barely poking their head out from behind the wall of guitar and drums, add a distinct flavoring that the leads play off of powerfully.

But the most interesting part of this track’s seven-minute runtime, the part that really draws the listener in, is the switch up at around the three-minute mark. Here, the track decomposes and dissolves into a single synth, pitched at a high whine, accompanied with alien-sounding ambient recordings. The song slowly builds itself back up into another black metal progression, complete with a beautiful lead. Every track brings a memorably melodic lead to the forefront, backed by all-around strong writing. From ‘Take Me to the Stars’ until the end of the final track, ‘The Precessional March’, this album remains interesting, dynamic without losing momentum, building on itself into a work of art until its final moments.

The production is another huge point in this album’s favor. The guitars are crisp and perfectly balanced between spacey and gritty, the drums punctuate each progression with grace and clarity (the floor tom deserves a special mention here- it is booming and colossal, smashing through the sound while not detracting from it), and the synths stand in a background area, adding flavor to the music without overwhelming it. It is rare that an atmospheric black metal album this well mastered comes along, and the poise with which Innerstanding presents itself is in no small part due to the strength of its mix.

Throughout this album, the songwriting remains consistent and strong- every track is written in the same basic style of ‘chord progression with ambient synths and lead over it’, but the pacing and cleverly-written leads keep the album from getting stale in any way. The production highlights and enhances the whole experience, bringing to the forefront what it should at any given time. To work within the confined rules of this genre and create such a work of art is difficult, and solitary member Hermes deserves to be lauded for their efforts on this album. Yet another album in a growing pantheon of great black metal from 2015, Innerstanding is a fantastic example of how an artist can work within very rigid confines and still create something incredible.
 
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Tome of the Unreplenished – Innerstanding gets…

4.5/5

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