(Here’s Grant Skelton’s review of the new album by Vials of Wrath.)
“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.”
William Wordsworth, “The Tables Turned”
I initially caught wind of Vials Of Wrath with their 2013 release Seeking Refuge. That album was one of my first forays into black metal, particularly with atmospheric leanings. It was a genre I had not explored because I had decided that I did not like it. Since becoming a lurker here at NCS, I’ve adopted a much more fluid “listen to anything once” policy. The reason for this is that I’ve been proven wrong on more than one occasion. I’d convinced myself that I did not like a genre/band/release. Upon repeat listens, I’ve found my musical horizons broadened, thus evolving my metal palate.
Seeking Refuge was an album I was able to listen to from start to finish. It was something I could lose myself in, detaching from the external world and reclining to let the music take me where it might. It was something I didn’t want to be distracted from. Something I would put other things on hold for. Freedom from distraction is a theme common throughout Vials Of Wrath’s body of work.
Solitude is a precious commodity. Now, I’m no technophobe. Quite the contrary. Technology makes this website possible. It gives us music streams and album reviews. It affords us the ability to correspond with musicians or fans from other countries. But, we periodically need to “unplug” or “go dark,” just for a little while. This is why we tend to take vacations to places that are slower and calmer than our daily lives. We need to disengage and rejuvenate. We need to give rest to our minds and bodies. I can’t speak for everyone involved in this site, but I for one am finding that increasingly difficult.
Which is what makes Days Without Names such a refreshing release for me. Band mastermind DC Mills recorded the album at Fallen Oak Recording, his in-home recording studio. Mills lives near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and frequently retreats into Cherokee National Forest for personal reflection and creative inspiration. Located in the eastern part of my home state of Tennessee, these locales remain the favorite destinations of residents and tourists alike. Nature has inspired poets, authors, lyricists, and artists for aeons. Nature continues to inspire a bevy of black metal musicians, being a muse wrought from quiet solitude.
The Romantics, like Wordsworth quoted above, yearned for nature as a shelter from the ailments of modern living. They realized that nature held in it a captivating beauty that was limitless. It had no end. It was infinite. Since humankind’s desires are also infinite, Romantics advocated a simpler style of living. One where nature could satiate our infinite hunger with its infinite beauty. On Days Without Names, Vials Of Wrath merge Romanticism with the vigor and velocity of black metal.
The instrumental opener “That Which I’ve Beheld” is a sober synthesizer lullaby. Picture a hazy sunset on an early autumn evening that welcomes a blanket of dusk over the woodlands. “Journey Beyond The Flesh” follows. At 9:12, it is the album’s longest track and its atmosphere is something like a downtrodden eulogy. In spite of the harmonious keys, beneath the furious drumming and throat-scraping vocals is grief. The song’s mood is sorrowful and dire, but the song’s final lyrics indicate a glimmer of hope, however dim:
When death’s cold hand takes mine
May it be in such a time
Make my grave upon the highest mount
The first teaser for Days Without Names included about one minute of “Burning Autumn Leaves (Under A Harvest Moon).” I cannot speak positively enough about this track. It is my favorite on the album. “Burning Autumn Leaves…” features guest vocals from Aaron Macemore of Bloodline Severed along with R. Michael Cook of A Hill To Die Upon handling the drums. The song begins with the quiet lull of an acoustic threnody. When the drums and electric guitars enter, it slowly metamorphoses into a solemn chorus that would not be out of place on a funeral doom album. The song’s dynamic pivots sharply just after 3:00. Black metal velocity abruptly jars us from slumber and carries us into a fearsomely melodious solo courtesy of Derek Corzine (Whisper From Heaven/Blood Thirsty). This song will definitely show up in my list of 2015’s Most Infectious Songs at the end of the year.
The melodic movements continue to abound in the latter half of Days Without Names. The opening minutes of “The Path Less Oft Tread” include bleak riffs and weeping lead work that bode only mourning. The song unfolds like an elegy to someone who’s been gone a long time. Yet, the loss seems as fresh as if the person had just passed. The acoustic guitar is a welcome guest at the end of this track, as well as in “Revival Of The Embers” and the interlude “Silhouettes Against The Sun.” Back in June (here), VoW premiered an unmastered demo of “A Cleansing Prayer.” If you had to choose one song that would articulate everything about Vials Of Wrath, choose this one. A grand and climactic finale to an incredible piece of nature-inspired music.
The songs on Days Without Names are black metal hymns written through the vessel of nature. Within the solitude of the wilderness, DC Mills has become a conduit through which nature speaks of infinity. The infinite beauty bestowed upon it by its Maker and Creator. The woods are a church without walls constructed long before humankind walked the earth. And Days Without Names holds the voices of the choir of that church.
For anyone who’s looking forward to Panopticon’s Autumn Eternal (out next month), I implore you to also add Vials Of Wrath’s Days Without Names to your collection. The album can be streamed in full below. It is available on Bandcamp for $7.