(Here, Andy Synn reviews the new album from those French nihilists in Reverence.)
As you may know, I like my metal like I like my women – black, blasphemous, and cold to the touch. Reverence’s newest album brings all these cards to the table, but ups the ante with a distinctively industrial edge.
Staking their claim to the barren lands somewhere between the crippling insanity of The Axis Of Perdition and the warped humanism of Glorior Belli, the band have been successfully fusing the angular chaos of the former with the sinuous darkness of the latter for years now, with this, their most recent release, taking pride of place alongside the arcane experimentation of Blut Aus Nord and the ritualistic self-loathing of Deathspell Omega.
Opening track (and de facto album intro) “Earth” has a slow, menacing build up, its haunting ambience coalescing into a rippling stormfront of cryptic strings, marching, martial drums, and morbid vocals. The more overt, metallic elements creep, rather than leap, into the fray, predatory, chugging guitars and restrained blast-beats chomping at the bit to be unleashed.
The album really kicks into gear, however, with the blasting antagonism of “Darwin’s Black Hall”. The track’s spinning, restless vibe switches up for down, black for white, pain for pleasure, all the while pummeling from all sides with sudden eruptions of scathing blast-work and a scalding hail of caustic, dissonant guitar. The lengthy structure allows the group to make extensive digressions into slower, doom-laden territories, replete with groaning, ominous chords and a bubbling undercurrent of primordial melody. A mechanised, mutated atmosphere permeates the band’s suicidal black metal assault, as they carefully balance post-organic industrial noise-scapes with an all too human dementia.
There’s a subtle melody hidden somewhere in the brooding, enigmatic “The Descent”, it’s just that none of the notes are in the right order. This serves to craft a strange atmosphere that echoes the pulsating darkness of Glorior Belli, but whose echoes are distorted through a prism of alien origin. The group have mastered the task of taking melody and using it to convey an atmosphere of crawling, inchoate horror, setting it off against a pitiless array of stark, desperate chords and inhuman guitar-driven noise. The vocals, too, straddle a line between human torment and inhuman detachment, as if every shriek of agony and blood-puking growl was being wrenched from the throat of someone no longer sure of their own existence. Again, the keys swirl and flow with virulent vigour, weaving their malevolent melodies and accented by the group’s use of seductive, bluesy leads and unsettling, undulating bass work.
In its seven-minute length, “Psalm IV” moves from undeniably uncomfortable to downright disturbing, as layer after layer of disturbing ambience and contorted guitar-work feed on one another in some horrific parody of life. The track is bathed in sweeping synth work, a tormented symphony of sickness that insinuates itself into the subconscious. Scattergun snare blasts and piston-driven kick patterns beat themselves relentlessly into the listener’s brain, while staccato bursts of chugging guitars and strangled tremolo work fight an endless battle with piercing injections of scratchy dissonance and weird, sulphurous melody, culminating in the unbearable sounds of a woman screaming and sobbing in pain and terror.
Part hypnotic death metal fury, part faded synthetic grandeur, “Ghost of Dust” is a more direct piece that wears its knack for nuanced melody with both pride and disdain, all wrapped in a decaying shroud of blackened filth. Hammering death metal riffage gives way to scalding blast-beats and croaking, sub-human vocals and a finale of staccato, focused aggression. Refusing to allow their audience to become comfortable with any of these elements, the group switch back and forth between them with maddening unpredictability, before drawing it all together with an nagging, gnawing, piece of stop-start, nihilistic guitar and warped, arcane chanting which gives breathing room to the song’s constant undercurrent of heretical dis-harmony, eventually reaching its nadir in the interplay between the track’s smoky, bluesy guitar solo and the scarred, twitching dissonance surrounding it.
Dehumanised and stripped bare of any trace of human empathy, the opening of “Cold Room” inflicts a deadly pattern of headbanging, kerb-stomping riffs and drums upon the listener, pummeling with perverse precision, before opening up and unfolding into something far more textured and intriguing. Devotees of The Monolith Deathcult will doubtless appreciate the ostentatious and decadent synth work and haunting, ritualistic clean chanting. This calm only leaves the listener more vulnerable to the sudden shift in tempo that occurs as the band’s industrial elements crash down upon the song, obliterating any sense of warmth or safety that had, however briefly, been established. From then on the song is an assault of crushing distortion and disorienting atmospherics that torment the listener with flashes of melody amidst the formless chaos.
After this, the soothing synths of “Genesis of Everything” are a welcome respite. Like water to a man dying of thirst, they allow the listeners to recollect themselves and pull back from the brink, even if this salvation is short-lived.
Cruelly, this serves only to weaken the body’s defenses against the depraved “Those Who Believed”, a bodily invasion of narcotic melody and strung-out, ugly chords which drags the audience down into the mire of degradation along with it. Bare-bones and starving, the track is an emotionally draining experience, the interplay of discordant instruments bleaching all life and color from the music before the harsh, industrial clamor of the its final bars puts the last nail in the coffin.
Drowning in a noxious, eerie ambience, the crushing walls of harsh, industrial noise that dominate “The Asthenic Ascension” are utterly devastating, backed by jarring anti-melodies and twisted note streams that seem to run backwards on themselves in defiance of all the natural laws. Jagged spikes of sharp, contentious guitars and raw, blistered vocals leap out at odd times and with almost no sense of order or control, yet the reverberant bass-lines and machine-like drums never falter from their unrelenting mechanised pulse. It’s an uncomfortable dichotomy of ritualistic desecration and genocidal experimentation, splicing mankind’s spiritual cess-pool with the scrap-heap DNA of the machine.
Chaotically complex, yet lethally precise, at times this album reminds me of the recent works of the now departed Averse Sefira, or even latter-day 1349, with its willful disregard for convention and gleeful defiance of expectations. A constant struggle between chaos and order, ultimately this is in every way its own creation, sharing only a similarly apocalyptic agenda and an overall aesthetic with its twisted black brethren. It maintains an uncompromising focus on creating challenging compositions while never neglecting the song-writing art, as it vomits up caustic gobbets of bile and blasphemy.
This is the sort of black metal I love, that expands the mind while it blackens the soul.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Asthenic Ascension is out now on Candlelight Records. For more info about Reverence, here are links:
In an earlier NCS post, we featured the band’s official video for “Earth”. It’s such an effective partnership between music and film-making that we’re going to feature it again here:
Amazing video. Thank You!
Ok, I’ll come clean, it’s not MY video.
In seriousness though, buy the album! It’s a massive blackened death-trip of a record.