Welcome, once again, to the column which exists solely so we could have a place to say: “hey, we fucked up”. And boy, did we fuck up this time; despite getting some traction in our circles, we never covered Locust Leaves‘ 2017 release, A Subtler Kind of Light. It’s a major fuck up for several reasons: first, the project contains none other than Ayloss of Spectral Lore, one of my personal favorite musicians in black metal. Second, the album itself is a blend of progressive death metal, folk, black metal and avant-garde, basically ticking every single box of stuff that Heavy Blog cares about. And, lastly and most importantly, it’s fucking amazing.
Going through my list of “to listen” albums (which is buried in backlog, as you can tell from this delay), my ears were immediately intrigued when the first chords of this album started playing. “Light (Fos)”. Locust Leaves waste absolutely no time, immediately erupting into an epic and intricate guitar riff which, as the operatic vocals and backing choirs arrive, turns to an even more off kilter and non standard approach to composition. The bass supports it beautifully, with a subtle but present tone, embellishing the high ends of the scale which the guitars run. Add those aforementioned vocals into the mix which, across the entire album, move between dizzying heights of expression to guttural lows of depression, and you have the heady mix which is A Subtler Kind of Light.
But we’re not done. The truly shattering thing about this album is how many other influences the band manage to inject into it on top of everything else that’s going on. “Light (Fos)” itself also contains a more acoustic centered passage which fades out into the second track, “Pillar (Vraxos)”. This one opens with a riff straight out of the Chuck Schuldiner playbook but it quickly gets modified with a neo-classical bent that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Symphony X album. It’s this mercurial quality that most impresses on A Subtler Kind of Light; so many balls are being juggled at the same time and yet, none of them sound out of place or forced. Much of the guitar wizardry can probably be attributed to Ayloss’s brilliant compositional abilities but the rest of the band deserve as much credit and especially one mysterious Helm, the multi-instrumentalist behind this release.
Together with Nick K, who contributed the brilliant and beguiling vocals to this release, it’s Helm’s vision which comes across on this album and gives it its unique flavor. Something about having an overarching architect on this release just shines through. Whether the album is delving the bottom of heavy music, galloping on top of flowery riffs or slamming you with abrasive passages, it has its own unique timbre, its own taste. The hand of one composer is very much visible across it and lends it the cohesion that is so sorely needed on ambitious, progressive releases such as this one. When you add this kind of streamlined structure to the impressively complex and unique ideas in operation, you get nothing short of an essential album. Make no mistake, regardless of our delay; A Subtler Kind of Light is 100% essential.