Is it possible for a post-black metal artist to sit still? Not that we would ever want them to, mind you, but it’s worth pointing out that many of the artists responsible for the creation and popularization of the genre have all moved away from the genre’s nascent sound and have moved into progressive and post rock. We’re slowly moving back, as evidenced by Alcest’s change of heart after going full Enya on us and Myrkur’s mystical feminine spin on the sound in recent years. Performing black metal is still cool, it turns out, but the sounds we heard back in 2010 are likely lost in time.
But who could blame any of them for branching out? As groundbreaking as the movement was, the genre was fast approaching saturation. Had the genre not flirted with new wave, shoegaze, and post rock, the bubble might have popped much too quickly. You know what happens when no one tries anything new? You get things like the nu-metal crash in the mid 00’s. Post-black metal saved itself because bands quickly adapted and pushed out in all directions. Many of us might not have cared for Alcest’s dream pop record Shelter, but without it, we might not have fully appreciated Kodama, is all I’m saying. We didn’t need to hear Écailles de Lune again from Alcest or anyone else for that matter, because they did it right the first time.
Take German act Heretoir, a little-known progenitor of the style. While the early works were instrumental to the foundation of the sound and are revered as borderline classics (their 2008 demo circulated quickly among early adopters of the niche), they show their age as being archetypal and basic to what we now understand as the core sound. Since then, it’s been done to bigger and better margins. This is to no fault of the band, either, because their work on what would become post-black metal was formative and influential, but a lot has happened in the six years since their last release. The landscape had changed around them, and if they had let time slip by without stylistic adaptation, the time may as well have been wasted.
Fortunately, their long awaited follow-up The Circle certainly feels like six years’ worth of progress. Immediately, the record distances itself from the cliches that the style of post-black metal wrought so thoroughly. There’s a dynamic range in emotion, atmosphere, and musical technique that is invigorating and promotes an emotional investment in the record’s curves and edges.
However, Heretoir have broadened their scope to such a degree that calling The Circle a post-black metal record would be almost inaccurate. The Circle sports punchy modern prog production, and utilize an array of musical techniques befitting of post metal, prog rock, and melancholic metal. The glossy production and twinkling guitar tones are more reminiscent of Tesseract, and the minor key vocal harmonies in “The White”, for instance, are borrowed from the Katatonia playbook. Shades of Cult of Luna, and perhaps more appropriately, the now defunct The Mire (who began to toy with black metal in their final release) also bleed through, particularly in powerful moments such as “Exhale” and “Fading With The Glory.”
Elements of black metal no doubt remain — “Laniakea Dances“ is a stellar track that checks all the right boxes for a powerful genre entry and features a guest spot from Niege himself — the use of blastbeats, distant screeches, and tremelo picked chord progressions are used as songwriting tools that contribute to something greater as an ambiguous and ambitious blend of all things prefixed as post and progressive.
Typically stark stylistic evolutions such as this can be cause for disaster, and with a finicky fan base like this, it’s particularly risky. However, Heretoir have proven their versatility as musicians capable of making grand statements that are engaging and devastating, and offer no qualms about fitting neatly into predefined boxes. The Circle does benefit from its climatic and cinematic nature that focuses on the cycle of life and death, but the hour-plus runtime can be exhausting. Even still, Heretoir offers a truly powerful record that takes chances and makes important developments for the sake of themselves and the genre at large, even if The Circle doesn’t particularly sound like either.
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