“A rising tide floats all boats”. Know that idiom? It’s especially relevant to what we’ve been seeing in music in 2019 and, to be honest, this past half decade or so. With so much music being released, it no longer seems possible to identify one (or even two or three) genres each year which enjoyed a specific fecundity or popularity. Everywhere you look the falling rain of the ease of sharing of music and of making it seems to be causing musical flowers to bloom. Example: there have been two fantastic albums released within the extremely niche genre of “what if 70’s progressive rock and black metal had a baby?” The first we’ve already covered on the blog, Epectase’s excellent Astres. The second released today, unsurprisingly on the same label, I, Voidhanger Records. It is In Human Form‘s III and if you let it, it will blow your mind.
At its two polarities, III is made from the same materials as Astres. On one hand, you have abrasive, shrieking, abyss-filled black metal while on the other, you find open chords, breathy compositions, and progressive tropes well forged in the 70’s. In Astres‘ case, these elements are used to create an epic, spacious, and fantastic feeling, drawing on the best from both genres to create this majestic sort of feeling. But in III the weirdness is doubled down on, drawing odder feelings from both sides of the spectrum. Listen to around the five minute mark of the first track, “Apocrypha Carrion”, for example. This isn’t your “standard” second wave black metal, which is closer to what Epectase use on their release. The vocals, the instruments, the tones, they all speak in the language of avant-garde black metal, something like Dødheimsgard but less operatic, more personal and introspective.
The progressive elements are also far more bizarre. They draw more on influences like Gentle Giant and their ilk, courting jazz-fusion and its odd use of improvisation. Sure, the weirdness of these segments sometimes collapses behind an epic solo or two but, more often than not, they paint intricate bass lines, bewildering guitar roles, and broadcast an overall sense of experimentation that’s often hard to follow. Which is, of course, the point; both sides of the aural, weird coin on III are designed to disorient and set you up for the harder hitting segments. This also happens on a meta level with the album’s structure; once the intricate “Apocrypha Carrion” is done, “Weeping Stones” sweeps in to usher you deep into melancholy. By using brass instruments (specifically a host of saxophones, both alto, tenor and baritone), a quieter overall composition, and one hell of a choir-backed crescendo at its end, “Weeping Stones” is the creepier, more goth sibling of the two tracks that corner it on either side.
By the time “Canonical Detritus” arrives with its once-again monstrously pained vocals, you’re set up for the rest of the album and the track’s flirtations, once again, with psychedelic rock (just listen to that riff near the three minute mark and the Hammond-like synths going off in its background). By the way, those vocals are a big part of what sets this album apart, as we’ve already hinted at above with the Dødheimsgard comparison. Equal parts abrasive, evocative, and powerful, they do much to carry forward the momentum of the album and nail its more emotional messages home. In between rapid shifts from treble infused solos and bottomless blast-beats and fast riffs, the vocals serve like the Greek choir, a thread which runs through the album and gives it substance and weight.
The end result is an epic journey which, like the epics of the days of yore, takes us through a varied and wild journey. More than just “progressive”, III (and its brethren in Astres) is experimental, daring, and avant-garde. It’s an album that’s going to demand a lot of you and, as the flipside, have plenty for you to dig into and come to terms with in the next few years. This review can’t even describe half of what the album does and why it’s great; we haven’t even covered the Death influenced riffs, the spoken word parts on the last track, or the incredible round of solos on the first. You’ll just have to listen to yourself. Make sure you don’t sleep on this one, no matter how close we might be to year’s end; it’d be a shame to miss something as ambitious as this.
In Human Form’s III releases today, December 13th 2019. You can head on over to their Bandcamp page above to purchase it.