One of the most elusive skills, a skill in dire need in metal especially, is the ability to balance between tension and release. It is in short supply everywhere, to be sure, since nailing the very subtle moments that connect a high-energy riff, for example, and a moving, quieter segment is a master’s art. But in metal, the shortage of such dexterity is particularly felt, probably because the genre has the ideal of “everything louder than everything else” etched into its roots. What most people miss is that turning up the volume on a segment is only one way of making it louder. Turning a different passage down is another and a far more satisfying one when pulled off well. The result is something more dynamic and varied, where the differences between instruments, vocals, tracks, moods, and themes can be distinguished by the careful listener.
Falls of Rauros and, indeed, the entire black metal style that emanates from the Pacific Northwest, rely on this crucial balance. In blending the heavier tendencies of black metal (the abrasive riff, the frostbitten shrieks, the unrelenting drumming) with the quieter ideas of folk and post-rock, was the genre first born. Falls of Rauros are careful disciples of this blend. Their previous albums, and especially their most recent one, Vigilance Perennial, tended to fall even harder than most on the quiet side of the spectrum, drawn out moments of folk punctuating the heavier and epic style of their black metal. With Patterns in Mythology, their latest release, these quieter passages have been scaled back. They’re still present but they have to “compete” with yet another, newer sound for the band; that of big guitar solos and leads, further articulating the epic gesture in the band’s music.
To illustrate the point, and how this new tension works on the album, I’d like to focus on the two last tracks on the album for they exemplify this new balance very well. First, “Last Empty Tradition” opens with just one of these epic guitar leads, reminding us (both in the tone of the guitar and how the lead blends into the first riff) of Pallbearer. If the seems like a weird comparison, because of the supposed genre distance between the bands, reconsider; both bands exercise the large, the massive in scale, and the emotional to an equal degree. The buildup is the same here; the guitar casts the thematic net wide, communicating its emotions with a loud cry. The difference is in how the tension gets resolved; where with doom bands very long and slow chords would follow, Falls of Rauros’ pace is faster (though, upon further consideration, not that much faster). The vocals too are nothing like Pallbearer’s. They are where the black metal influences shine the most, haggard and raw as that genre demands.
Note as well how loud the excellent tone and role of the bass, punctuating not only the chords as they fall into place but also the tension between each one, the moments in between resolution. Eventually, this second passage falls away and gives the bass pride and place in the center of the composition, with cymbals supporting it right before a more vibrant, open, and chromatic guitar role arrives. This role again ushers in a massively frontal guitar part, epic notes and tones searing away through the rest of the instrumentation (tones which were, incidentally, overseen by one Colin Marston). This extended segment goes on for a few minutes, articulating and exploring it all has to say, as if we were climbing a mountain with summit after summit; just when you think you’ve reached the top, a further and more challenging height opens up before you. Following another heavy passage, one which echoes the initial direction of the track, “Last Empty Tradition” comes to a close.
Only to be picked up by “Memory at Night”, the closing track of the album and possibly the best one in the album. It incorporates the guitar leads right into its main riffs, reconciling them with the harsh vocals and the prominent bass. More delay-heavy tracks are added in the background of the verses, eventually joining the main guitar track for another round at a summit or two (or three, or four). The repetition and extrapolation on ideas replete throughout the previous track (and, indeed, the entire album) is all we need for a veritable fest of catharsis. At its end, after tension has been broken, lies a heart-wrenching, beautiful passage, more reminiscent of the “classic” Falls of Rauros sound. Notes are strummed, open and majestic, as the album dies away, soothing us into where we might go next. The feeling is one of the ultimate summit, where vistas stretch below us and we know that climbing is done for the day, that the journey was worth it for these tranquil sights before us.
In other places on the album, these quiet passages, like the majestic “Renouvellement” or the more eerie opening of “New Inertia”, serve a similar role. They are introspective moments, setting off the more grandiose and indulgent passages of far-flying guitars. This kind of “one two” combo, where different elements of the composition set each other off, is exactly the kind of balance that we presented when we opened this review. Falls of Rauros execute that balance beautifully on Patterns in Mythology, perhaps better than they ever have. Fans of the “classic” Pacific Northwest black metal might find the album to not be black metal enough, sacrificing much of its crushing heaviness for a more ethereal and rarefied kind of vibe. But for those of us hooked on the emotional grandiosity of metal and, more importantly, the way in which it can be subverted and amplified through that subversion, Patterns in Mythology is a wonderful exercise in the highs, and lows, which that style can invoke.
Patterns in Mythology releases on July 19th. You can stream a track from it through the excellent Invisible Oranges and pre-order it on the equally excellent Gilead Media’s Bandcamp.