Thirteen is supposedly an unlucky number, but for famed second-wave-turned-progressive black metal wonders Enslaved, it’s anything but. Their thirteenth studio album, In Times, is a masterpiece of mingling textures and moving melodies, deftly melding atmosphere and proggy riffing into a joyous combination. Six tracks long, all of which are eight minutes or more, this album is not to be trifled with: Enslaved’s combination of folk-tinged progressive metal combined with the ghostly melodies of black metal is as strong as ever here, making it a thoroughly enjoyable 50-minutes-and-change listen. The typical harsh screams pierce through hauntingly beautiful chord progressions, creating a driving dynamic, and the clever use of background synths adds a powerful sense of atmosphere. A magnificent album by a magnificent band, In Times is one of the most grandiose and soaring releases of the year so far.
Perhaps one of the “trve” critiques of blackgaze is its democratization of scenery and origin: a great deal of traditional black metal was intrinsically linked with Scandinavia’s frigid landscape and the folklore present within those cultures. But with Alcest’s mystical fairy world, Deafheaven’s urban dream house and Woods of Desolation’s down under paradise, it is somewhat difficult to imagine these groups posing in chainmail underneath an evergreen tree adorned with snow. But as with a band like Ghost Bath, hailing from China or North Dakota matters less than understanding the central theme of blackgaze: tortured bliss; a desire to acknowledge misery and simultaneously find not only peace, but joy. And from the bleeding intro of “Golden Number” to the triumphant finale of “Death and the Maiden,” Moonlover reiterates the blackgaze mission statement of speaking to the universal frailty of human imperfection. In that sense, it does not matter whether Ghost Bath emits their music from the the most populated country in the world or one of the least populated states in America, but rather that their music touches upon an emotional chord felt by a global populace.
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First and foremost, the glass of god’s pee resting before us must be examined: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is not the greatest installment in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s catalogue. With the album’s terse runtime, emphasis on drone and lack of field recordings, GY!BE explored territory somewhat foreign to post rock classics like F♯ A♯ ∞, Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada and Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!. Yet, what constitutes a weak GY!BE offering still entails excellent post rock, and Asunder is no exception. Album opener “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!'” bears a striking resemblance to Earth circa Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method and The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, albeit with GY!BE’s signature punchy sneer speckled into the mix. The album’s mid-section drone of “Lamb’s Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet” provides and alluring interlude that gradually melts into a sea of strings that becomes “Piss Crowns Are Trebled,” a truer presentation of GY!BE’s past with a more direct focus and approach. While Asunder may not be be the best GY!BE album with which to enter their discography, it will surely entice the senses of fans of both the band and their genre.
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There’s nothing like a change in scenery when it comes to keeping things fresh. When Norwegian jazz collective Jaga Jazzist decided they wanted to trade in the modest beauty of their native Oslo for the massive urban sprawl of Los Angeles, their music decidedly followed suit. Like the city that inspired it, Starfire is a colossal achievement by all accounts, featuring gorgeous soundscapes interspersed with one enormous climax after another, the labyrinthine songwriting carried through as usual by ringleader Lars Horntveth’s boundless ability to conjure mind-blowing motifs and progressions seemingly out of thin air.
Yet the album’s biggest strength lies in its pacing and subtlety; the 14-minute “Big City Music,” Jaga’s longest track to date, spends most of its duration quietly building towards something greater, as acoustic guitars intermingle with dazzling electronic flourishes while an assortment of disparate sounds slowly but surely meld together. While these little things are indeed what makes Jaga’s latest offering so great, it speaks to Starfire’s lasting quality that the last few notes of final track “Prungen” always leave the listener feeling as if they’ve experienced something much, much greater than the sum of the album’s myriad parts.
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Keep of Kalessin are possibly one of the most underrated bands under the vast umbrella of black metal. Fusing the core of the genre’s sound with the epic flair of power metal and satisfying, well-constructed lengthy suites of progressive metal, their sound is extremely empowering and memorable. After their five-year-long hiatus including the disappearance of their vocalist in a jungle, they’ve come back, with guitar virtuoso Arnt “Obsidian Claw” now also handling vocals, and they’re better than ever. Epistemology is a culmination of the band’s career so far, with songs grander and and better than ever before. Blazing fast riffing, blast beats, powerful vocal lines to chant along to — it’s just a delight to listen to and get lost in. They’ve included more clean vocals than ever, as Arnt is apparently very talented at them, and this new focus of their sound, coupled (often simultaneously) with some of their most extreme and developed songwriting, elevates the band to a new level. The strong opener, “The Spiritual Relief” is both so catchy and so heavy, and it’s just the beginning, as subsequent songs are faster, more melodic, just more of everything. Augmented by Obsidian Claw’s trademark creative playing, his ephemeral vocals, Keep of Kalessin are winning the progressive metal game by playing on a level no one else is, and making a killing as well.