Experimental black metal in this latter portion of the 2010s brings to mind a particular sound and aesthetic. I’m here referring to the angular, jagged riff building of bands like Thantifaxath, Dodecahedron, and Deathspell Omega, who use versions of anti-melody and severe technicality to create a swirling maelstrom of sound that has as significant a barrier to entry in metal as I can think of. Olympia, Washington’s Eigenlicht, while extremely experimental in their approach to black metal, don a very different cloak of black metal obfuscation. Yet they don’t exactly fit the profile of their geography, either. Given their geographical ties to the Cascadian movement and bands like Wolves In the Throne Room, Skagos, Fauna, and Ekstasis, one might expect the band to flock toward the folky, atmospheric bent of their Washingtonian contemporaries. While some of these elements are present in their music, Eigenlicht strays pretty far from the traditional Cascadian sound, and are all the better for it. As relayed in their debut, two-song EP Sacral Regicide, Eigenlicht enter the realms of black metal pulling influence more heavily from acts like Schammasch than any of those listed above. But this, once again, is the metal merry-go-round of comparison. While useful, it only captures part of the essence of what makes a band like Eigenlicht unique and special in the world of black metal. With the band’s debut full-length record, Self-Annihilating Consciousness, Eigenlicht prove themselves a force of black metal fury set apart from much of the USBM scene through a fearless incorporation of elements and styles to their music that bend genre classifications in profound ways. This is a fantastic debut, and one worth exploring in detail.
The beginning sequence of this album provides ample evidence of Eigenlicht’s unique approach to black metal. This is mainly due, to be frank, to this portion of the album not sounding like black metal at all. In “There Lies Already the Shadow of Annihilation”, Mara Winter’s flute carries the music to an ethereal, mystical place that has a feel similar to Howard Shore’s work in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Behind this ominous, beautiful opening, tremolo-picked guitars squall like static in the background, feeling very much like the lo-fi Second Wave black metal fans adore and worship. These sounds all too quickly recede, ringing in the album’s first meaty track, “Hagia Sophia”. But this track doesn’t begin like a black metal aficionado would expect, either. Rather than facing a blast of cold black metal ferocity, listeners encounter nearly ten minutes of straight up doom metal. J. DeLacy’s drums thunder with plodding and methodical intensity, while Yianna Berkis and Ray Hawes’ guitars churn through a riff sequence as heavy as you will find in any classic doom record. Winter’s keyboards add a perfectly atmospheric vibe to the proceedings, as the heavy riffing takes turns with some reverb-laden strumming that makes the whole track such an almost unidentifiable amalgam of metallic sounds that one could forget that they were listening to a black metal record. The vocals don’t help this subgenre confusion, either, jumping back and forth from a deep, Bell Witch-esque growl-shriek-clean dynamic that fits the track impeccably well. From the opening moments of this record, it’s clear that Eigenlicht are not going for anything traditional when it comes to black metal songwriting. But never fear, black metal fans. Once you have been lulled into the slow and swirling world of doom metal, the song erupts into a black metal blast rivaling the rage and clarity of the work on Bereft’s fantastic album from last year, propelling the song into an emotionally devastating finale. From here, things get faster, nastier, and a whole lot blacker.
The album’s third cut, “Labrys”, kicks off right away with some fantastic tremolo duets, coupled with an underlying undercurrent of keys and open, thunderous drum work that feels like black metal in its most epic iterations. Herein the magic of the album’s production becomes evident, as each instrument is given prominence in the mix in a way that should satisfy most attentive listeners. Pete DeBoer’s mixing and mastering work here compliments these lengthy compositions well, creating an incredibly enjoyable listening experience on a sonic level. This pristine combination of doom-infused black metal continues unabated through the album’s most punishing track “Deifugal Force”, which uses synths to epic affect, and album closer “Berserker”, which features some of the band’s most intricate and varied guitar work. While the remainder of the album creates a much more traditional black metal vibe, the doom elements continue to pop up throughout, while Winter proves to be the band’s secret sauce, working the synths, keys, and winds with creativity and ease, creating a rich sonic palette that just works on so many levels. This is some of the best USBM I’ve heard in a good while, and is all the better due to its willingness to take some pretty big risks with the established formula.
Black metal, perhaps more than any other metal subgenre, is at peak saturation. Bandcamp is stuffed to excess with one-man black metal releases and trve kvlt underground acts. It’s incredibly easy to miss or skim over quality black metal in this day and age. Please don’t make Self-Annihilating Consciousness one of those albums. This is a quality release by a young band that is pushing the envelope of what black metal is and can be. It’s a unique and scintillating rush of experimental black metal goodness that should not be missed. A fantastic opening salvo for black metal’s 2018.
Self-Annahilating Consciousness will be released 2/16/2018 on Gilead Media and I, Voidhanger Records. “Labrys” can be streamed now via Invisible Oranges. Listen to the band’s most recent offering Sacral Regicide here.