I’ll admit, I’m not huge on black metal as some of the other people on staff here at Heavy Blog. It’s not so much because of the genre’s imagery (though I can completely understand why people are turned off by that), but because of the traditional black metal sound. Most black metal that I’ve listened to is a bit stale—it’s a little too repetitive for my taste, with what seems like unending minutes of tremolo picking—and the general lo-fi recording makes it hard for me to digest. (I’m not against lo-fi music, but when its a genre that can be very compositionally unconventional (like black metal), I like to actually hear what’s going on.)
However, there are always exceptions to every rule. Barshasketh is a New Zealander/Scottish band whose latest album, Ophidian Henosis, was one of my favorite albums of 2015. What sets Barshasketh from their competitors is their songwriting approach; they are heavily influenced by Second Wave BM bands (Darkthrone, Emperor, Immortal), but also create an atmosphere that’s as impressive as that created by Wolves in the Throne Room, but with much more accessibility. While tremolo picking and shrieking vocals are abundant, the former isn’t abused into banality; rather, the band switches things up a lot with their guitar work, and makes an album that you want to follow along with and listen to as closely as possible. (And without a generally lo-fi production, dissecting the album apart is much easier.)
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The atmosphere Barshasketh creates can vary, from the gloomy and foreboding sound that comes with traditional black metal to an almost Saor-esque feeling of hope amidst incredible darkness. (In a strange sense, also, the band seems to be able to remake the grandeur and beauty of symphonic black metal without the use of a symphony) The band’s commitment to variance makes sure that no single feeling in this atmosphere is too long or too short. It’s sort of like the Goldilocks of black metal, if you want to be puerile with the analogy.
I can’t say I have listened to Barshasketh’s earlier work, however—and they do have a decent discography under their belt with four albums (three of which are free to download on their Bandcamp page) and a split with a band called KRAWWL—but listening to Ophidian Hensosis definitely piques my interest in giving their entire catalog a spin.