Earlier this year we ran an article about “what we’re looking forward to in 2019” where I highlighted my excitement for what the sub-genres of blackgaze and post-black metal would have to offer this year. I noted concern of a growing trend to just replicate what those before them have created and fall into predictable tropes with limited creativity. However, I was eager to see in what further directions this seemingly limited subgenre could be pushed. In just 4 months we’ve seen the very underrated The Chemical Mind release a hypnotically atmospheric and progressive take at the genre in An Isolated Mind, and Numenorean’s more groove-laden, technical and sincerely badass recent release Adore. Now, enter Australia’s Illyria. I’m floored to see my somewhat pessimistic outlook on this subgenre being proven wrong so quickly.
Illyria have let their song-writing and instrumentation do the talking for why they should be at the forefront of this sub-genre’s evolution and progression. Some might view the approach they’ve taken on their sophomore release, The Carpathian Summit, as an outlier for the genre that’s interesting but not specifically what they’re looking for in this sound, and hey, that’s okay. This album is not trying to be what you would expect, and the surprises are as unrelenting as they are fascinating.
From the first track, appropriately named “Resurgence” the tone is set thematically that this album plans to efficiently go to a lot of places, and is surprisingly progressive. A peaceful, atmospheric intro that reflects the beautiful art-work (seriously, look at those bears, what’s not to love) kicks the album off before going head in to some up-tempo melodic riffing somewhere between instrumental math/prog album like Pomegranate Tiger and 00s metalcore, that is complimented quite well by the more typical blackgaze screamed vocals. These driving melodic riffs eventually lead back to that more atmospheric meets dark-folk black metal sound, with some noticeably groovy bass lines. The following track and new single “Wilderness” follows a similar path, with a Hopesfall meets Harakiri For the Sky blend of vocals and tremolo riffing. The smooth transitions and intricate compositions at play here however are what make this approach much more than just throwing various styles at a wall and hoping they fit.
Tracks like “Echoflower Pt. 1” take us back to the more nature-inspired roots with a neo-folk inspired interlude, using an echoed background chant that would fit on early Agalloch material, a sound that comes across as a significant influence throughout.
Across the album we also see a lot of clean or sung vocals implemented, that while not necessarily extremely powerful, are very effective at giving an element of tranquility and innocence which is reflected by some of the more post-hardcore inflections. Post-hardcore itself is one of the stronger secondary influences, as heard on “Echoflower Pt. 2” with emotional shouted vocals and riffs borrowed from the more progressive side of the genre akin to Closure in Moscow and a funky very Thank You Scientist type outro. Speaking of which, the title track takes the prog factor even further with a 14-minute run time, including an elongated horn solo and dramatic mood shifts. The fact that I just mentioned neo-folk, post-hardcore and prog rock subsequently as significant influences really shows their tenacity towards creating something truly unique on The Carpathian Summit.
As someone who is a fan of all of these influences I am extremely impressed by how well they work together, yet I can definitely see certain sides of this not appealing to everyone. The production is a little rough around the edges, enough to keep their black metal cred (I’m mostly kidding there) but the modern progressive instrumentation and guitar soloing as in “Swansong” still sound bright and full. The second half of the album at times feels a little bit drawn out, with long instrumental passages fluctuating across these sounds – but this is really my only complaint. The Carpathian Summit is an album soaked in influences of the past, in a package that is clearly made for the present.
The Carpathian Summit is available April 26, self-released via Bandcamp.