New York-based post-black metal duo Mavradoxa made a quick turnaround with the follow-up to their 2016 debut, Sojourners, a record that wore its love for Agalloch and on its metaphorical and literal sleeves. Lethean Lament picks up right where Sojourners left off, and despite the brief period between releases, Lament is a fuller, more developed, and polished version of the band, one that also benefits from a much-improved mix. Essentially, Lethean Lament is what you’d expect from a quality post-black metal record: adventurously long tracks, gush-worthy cleans, charred in-your-face passages, and some tasteful string arrangements thrown in for good measure. At a glance, it’s a superbly-composed love letter to the the genre, skillfully pairing elegant and embellished passages with malicious affronts, while sharpening the effects of each against one another.
That being said, it’s not post-black-by-numbers. They stick their neck out with some ambitiously massive compositions, which are admittedly daunting. Excluding the acousting opening and closing pieces (at four and two minutes a piece, respectively), the albums four proper songs are at least 11 minutes in length, the longest of which clocks in at nearly 18 minutes. Needless to say, some patience is required to enjoy Lethean Lament, unfortunately this doesn’t lend itself well to a short work commute or as part of a shuffle mix. But when taken as a whole, the duo’s songcraft shines through and makes for a fleet listen. Their progressive tendencies provide a nice garnish to the formula, a savvy means of simultaneously breaking up long-winded passages before they become exhausting and keeping listeners on their toes throughout longer compositions with finesse. There’s nary a feeling of being drawn out or bled dry, but instead they ruthlessly pull your ear to one place and another, strictly commanding your attention, but still offering surprises at each turn. Take for instance the tasty bridge near the 10:30 minute mark that follows the solo in “Across the Nival Grove” or the morose gaps found within the blackened tirade in “From Fog”.
Now, this wouldn’t be possible if the performances weren’t as astute as they are sharp. Lux’s drumming is consistently clever and stylish, providing near-constant decoration and accents throughout the album, but also backing up much of the persistent pace of the record. It makes tracks like “Crimson Waves of Autumnal Flame” something that you want to wallow in, but also so regularly demanding of headbanging by means of collapses on crushing moments or with pointed, barb-like fills that stick with you from the first listen. In this way, Mavradoxa develop a similar kind of conflict that’s championed by bands like Falls of Rauros or Deafheaven, but here the swells are a little more even-keeled and natural, albeit less dramatic. It’d be unfair to call the record effect-heavy, but guitarist/bassist Nival’s varied guitar approach enhances the duo’s penchant for a proggier approach, and does so without being contrived or excessive. Whether the delay used on “Across the Nival Grove” or the perfectly-synced tremolo effect on “The Phantom Visages”, the guitars create a number of memorable landmarks in each track, and also act as a sort of enzyme that helps to incorporate the doom and traditional metal aspects of their sound. There’s some serious riffage to be enjoyed across the album, encouraging for loud listens for maximum impact of guitars and to relish in the lush atmospheric arrangements and ambient touches.
Despite their relative newness, Mavradoxa display an impressive level of polish, attention to detail, and flair (especially when considering the scale of their compositions). Leathan Lament excels is in its well-proportioned blend of atmospheric black metal and classic metal with a progressive skew, making the band feel like they’re playing beyond their years. Lament doesn’t bog itself down in a self-indulgent or pretentious mire, nor does it forget to satisfy the more basic urges of their audience. Consciously or not, the record shows their desire to frequently dip into the well of the stuff that makes a listener’s neck sore, and it’s this inclination that makes for a great foil and complement to their bread and butter sound. In the end, Lethean Lament is a remarkable listen, one that should help soothe the ache of those still mourning the departure of Agalloch and satisfy the more patient fans of the genre, along with a few reptile-brained headbangers, too.
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Lethean Lament is out now on Hypnotic Dirge Records.