With music, as in every facet of life, expectation creates a breeding ground for disappointment. Albums often clear the bar fans continuously raise, of course, but they can also hit it straight on or miss the mark entirely. I’m not suggesting that we can’t hold the artists we love to high standards or remain hopeful they’ll continue on a certain trajectory. But in metal specifically, bands must choose from three equally treacherous paths: experiment, regress, or maintain, all of which will draw the ire of some fans. In my view, listeners should expect a quality release and allow the band to take care of the specifics. After all, every subgenre and trend we hold dear today was once received as an unwelcome change by prior generations.
All of this is particularly true when revisiting a band’s music after a gap in listenership, something I’m disappointed to admit applies to my relationship with Hail Spirit Noir. They took an entirely unique approach to Hellenic black metal with their debut, Pneuma (2012), an adventurous blend of psychedelic and avant-garde songwriting orbiting the band’s blackened core. They operated on the fringes of every genre at their disposal to create an album that truly progressed the genre forward; I wrote as much in our Best Of: Progressive Black Metal feature (which I can’t believe we published six years ago).
This is usually the portion of the review where I’d explain how the band’s sound has developed over the years. Unfortunately, for no particular reason, I lost track of Hail Spirit Noir’s output after Pneuma. I wish I has a better explanation, but with the volume of music I listen to and review every year, some bands and releases just slip through cracks. It was clear from the cover art alone that Eden In Reverse would be a different beast, and indeed, the album is a stark reversal from their debut that’s still wildly successful in its own unique way. The psychedelic black metal I loved about Pneuma is gone, but the band replaced it with some of the best prog I’ve encountered this year.
That’s right, Eden In Reverse will surprise fans like me who’ve been in a coma and those married to the band maintaining the same sound throughout their entire career. Yet, as much as I love Pneuma, I’d argue that Eden In Reverse demonstrates and immense amount of musical growth. While it’s impossible to directly compare the albums, Hail Spirit Noir have clearly come into their own with rich, complex songwriting that takes their genre-bending tendencies into exciting new directions.
So what exactly will listeners encounter on Eden In Reverse? If I was limited to a series of genre tags, I’d probably land somewhere between “progressive space metal” or “gothic synth-rock.” See? Equally experimental, just in vastly different parts of the cosmos. Hail Spirit Noir combine the goth-tinged prog of bands like Katatonia and Sermon with the synth-heavy space themes of modern Kayo Dot, all while maintaining classic Floydian psych and vintage, Carpenter-themed horror synth. Or in other words, it’s fantastic.
Two duos help Eden In Reverse shine as brightly as it does, the most prominent being excellent electronic arrangements. Keyboardists (that sounds lame, how about synth wizards?) Haris and Sakis Bandis catapult each track well past the stratosphere with extraterrestrial sonic palettes. They flirt with creating a full on ’80s space horror soundtrack while avoiding the cheese and outdated tropes of the style. Atop it all, vocalists Cons Marg and Theoharis (who plays guitar, as well) provide deep, resonant singing that accentuates the band’s gothic songwriting tendencies. Their crooning yet powerful performance are the perfect compliment to what Eden In Reverse has to offer.
The album operates better as a whole, but there are certainly highlights within the track list. “The First Ape on Earth” was an excellent choice for a lead single and will perhaps appease longtime fans the most. The track is the most “metallic” on the album and seems to cull prog influences from both halves of Opeth‘s career.
Of course, there are spacey vibes abound, and the band effortlessly weaves the heavier aspects of their sound with complex webs of synths. Elsewhere, the band actually brush against full-on pop sensibilities, especially on “Incense Swirls.” The vocal, synth, and guitar hooks on the track are alluring and memorable, something the band maintains throughout the album.
In my view, closer “Automata 1980” is the album’s pinnacle. The track opens with free-wheeling synth lines that sound like the interludes on France the Mute reimagined for a space opera. The ensuing moment of the 11-minute epic shift between the atmospheric and chaotic aspects of the band’s sound, touching on everything in between in the process. It’s a grandiose finale befitting the triumph the band have created with Eden In Reverse.
Eden In Reverse is hardly the album many fans will expect from Hail Spirit Noir, and the band’s full-on embrace of progressive space rock will prove divisive. Yet, re-listening to Pneuma and (finally) listening to Oi Magoi (2014) and Mayhem In Blue (2016), there’s a clear, natural progression toward what unfolds on Eden In Reverse. I’d argue that’s not only produced the best album of the band’s career, but one of the standout prog releases of 2020. Change is inevitable, and in this case, it’s allowed Hail Spirit Noir to grow into a crucial voice in the modern prog scene.
Eden In Reverse is available June 19 via Agonia Records.