“What is it, a temple? What’s it called?”
“Nothing. It’s by the village, behind the reservation.”
“Will they let me in?”
“What do I need to do to get in?”
“You have to pray.”
“Knock on the wall?”
“Knock and repeat the words.”
“‘Let me out of here.’ You say it many times.”
“Is that it?”
“That’s it. We have only one prayer.”
-Konstantin Lopushansky, Posetitel Muzeya (Visitor of a Museum)
Composing an album with the backdrop of other media is a daunting task. As we discussed earlier this year with our review of Ehnahre‘s Theodore Roethke-referencing album The Marrow, it’s difficult to create music that accurately conveys the emotional context of the source material while also extrapolating enough to create a unique voice that can stand on its own. This is particularly true for albums that reference movies and similarly complex texts; whereas a novel or poem contains just text to decode, films contain several more elements that need to be interpreted, most challenging of which is the pre-existing music already linked to the visuals and script. In these types of situation, it’s a smarter bet to draw inspiration from a film while pursuing a larger thematic ideal, which is exactly how Bolt Gun succeed on their colossal, one-track album Man Is Wolf to Man. By drawing influence from a myriad of sources that bolster a stated pursuit—particularly Soviet and Ukrainian filmmaker/writer Konstantin Lopushansky’s dystopian film Posetitel Muzeya (Visitor of a Museum) as well as works by Soviet filmmakers/writers Andrei Tarkovsky and Krzysztof Kieślowski—the band realizes the grandiosity of this endeavor with an excellent display of thematic metal aimed at capturing the “existential horror of Stalinist Russia.”
While the band includes black metal among their genre descriptors, it’s a huge relief to hear that they avoided the stereotypical route of creating an Eastern European BM record that relies on the standard “bite of winter” approach. Across it’s 55-minute, single-track run time (cut into two parts), Man Is Wolf to Man achieves so much more than frosty feelings of blizzards and evergreens. The quartet truly do capture the essence of the internal strife that befell those crushed by the thumb of the Soviet regime; instead of composing just a sonic outline of a gulag, Bolt Gun have truly honed in on the emotions of a novel like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It’s a dense and desolate listen marked by suffocating “post-” textures and upholstered with elements of ambient, drone, black metal and funeral doom.
Though not one of the band’s stated influence, it’s near impossible to complete even a partial listen of Man Is Wolf to Man and not draw parallels to Neurosis‘s expansive playbook. Bolt Gun export the essence of the post-metal legends’ multifaceted approach to songcraft, while adding in the metallic edges and atmospheric flourishes of bands like Evoken, Pallbearer and Wolves in the Throne Room. The band carefully kneads and proofs these elements over the course of the album’s run time, creating a well-balanced whole that never tears despite the extended run time and single-track structure.
It’s a bold risk that pays off, as the track retains its interest through constant, steady evolution. What begins as a swirl of morose, ambient post-rock slowly spreads out gorgeous ripples within its stormy sea, eventually exploding into a blackened, doom-laden cry into the godless firmament. Andrew Trevenen’s vocals draw from the heavier traits of funeral doom growls, and the additional vocal contributions of guitarist Jonathan Carroll make for some explosive moments of shrieks and bellows that accent crashing percussion and massive, somber riffing. After a brief respite, the second half of the album beings with a synth-laden soundscape that again follows a path of steady evolution. The band’s first stop on this journey is through a steady post-rock tangent akin to Mogwai‘s approach on Come On Die Young, followed by the most violent, noisy passage on the entire record. Everything about the metallic outro of the first half is bolstered on the album’s proper finale, and the band’s black metal influences help make this climax a truly stirring display of measured aggression.
The resulting journey is one defined by true existential dread and desolation that encapsulates the strife suffered by citizens of the Soviet Union throughout its existence. Rather than defining Man Is Wolf to Man solely by their textual influences, Bolt Gun have excelled by instead taking the essences of fiction and reality and splicing them with their musical proficients. Listeners are rewarded with an album that feels equally rooted in the sci-fi dystopias envisioned by the aforementioned filmmakers as well as all too real historical experiences. The album is a truly massive listen on par with Bell Witch‘s Mirror Reaper, and while it requires a dedicated, patient set of ears to be enjoyed, the experience will pay off in dividends long before the final note rings.
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Man Is Wolf to Man is available 11/14 via Art As Catharsis.