(Andy Synn reviews the new album by South Africa’s Wildernessking.)
South Africa’s Wildernessking are a band we’ve been following closely here at NCS ever since we discovered them way back in the hallowed year two thousand and twelve, monitoring their steady growth and development with the ever-watchful eye of a proud father (or, at least, a creepy uncle).
From their humble beginnings (though I still contend that The Writing of Gods in the Sand is one of the finest debut albums I’ve heard in the last ten years or so) the quartet have demonstrated a frankly fearless and irresistible urge to progress, continually expanding their creative palette, whilst also showcasing an impressive ability to write songs that are as effortlessly memorable as they are cleverly unpredictable.
And although there will be those who refer to Mystical Future (the band’s second full-length following a series of intriguing, invigorating EPs and split-releases) as a “Post Black Metal” album – with all the associated baggage and braggadocio that entails – the idea of attributing this term to the band seems, to me at least, to be less about them adhering to the vague tenets of this still somewhat ill-defined sub-genre, and more of an acknowledgement that the band are entering a new phase of existence… their “Post” Black Metal years, if you will.
Of course that in itself doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture, as I can think of a number of bands (some obvious, some less so) whose “Post” Black Metal period has certainly taken them further from the sounds of their youth than Wildernessking have ventured, so far at least. After all, it’s not as if the Cape Town quartet (whose line-up still remains unchanged since their debut) have fully abandoned their roots, as you’ll find the same frenzied sandstorms of blast-beats and the same cracked and caustic shrieks scattered throughout the length and breadth of Mystical Future as you would have found on any of their previous releases – yet it’s also impossible to deny that the balance, the focus, and the dynamic, of the band’s sound have irrevocably and inevitably changed as the years have passed.
It’s a simple matter really. As the band have grown and progressed, so has their creative palette developed — slowly, surely, naturally – and so has the dynamic of their sound shifted to make room for this creative growth. As a result, it’s clear that there’s just so much more on offer here – so much atmosphere and melancholy grandeur, so much melody and introspection, so many different, clever touches and hints of outside influences – that the band have simply expanded beyond the confines of what the purists would truly consider “Black Metal”… and have done so without any regard for what’s hip, or cool, or “true”, in the eyes of others.
This shouldn’t be entirely unexpected though, and perhaps it’s an effect of the group’s relative isolation (South Africa not being exactly known for its grim and frostbitten Black Metal scene), because the Wildernessking sound has always struck my ears as one that’s very much unique. Even during their most aggressive moments (of which there are more than I can count), there’s always been an undercurrent of dreamy mysticism and a sense of wide-eyed wonder at the glory, and savagery, of nature which served to set them apart from even their closest (figuratively speaking) peers.
This sense of distance – both physical and spiritual — is only enhanced upon listening to Mystical Future. From the moment that the solemn nomadic procession of “White Horses” begins its wandering journey, coloured by luminous layers of haunting melody and powered by a raw and restless energy which drives every thrumming riff and sombre, soaring harmony ever forwards, ever onwards, to the final climactic chords of epic, proggy closer “If You Leave” – all thirteen minutes of glimmering, gloomy beauty and barely restrained, elemental metallic fury – this is an album that ebbs and flows to its own rhythm and rhyme, rising and falling, heaving and swaying like a sapling in the storm, bending but never breaking, rooted firmly in the soil which gives it life and nourishment, yet reaching ever upwards towards the sky above it.
I apologise if all that’s a little too flowery for some. It’s just that this album brings out the poet in me. It inspires and it invigorates and energises me every time I listen to it. Which is exactly what good Black Metal – “Post” or otherwise – is supposed to do.
Of course between these two tracks you’ll surely find enough moments of galloping fury and majestic melody to satiate even the most jaded of listeners, such as during the thrilling “I Will Go To Your Tomb”, where the riffs rage and writhe and rumble, while the vocals howl their harrowing tale of pain and loss with glorious abandon, all sewn together by a drumming performance (courtesy of enviably talented sticksman Jason Jardim) that prioritises nuance and creativity over pure extremity.
That’s not to say the band have gone soft, however (though the sparse, twilight ambience of “To Transcend” is both the softest, and most evocative, thing they’ve ever written), as there’s more than enough blackened rage and fury on display throughout the album to put a lie to that idea, particularly during the raging intensity of “With Arms Like Wands”, which marries a ferocious opening torrent of seething anguish and desperation to a truly gorgeous and enthralling mid-section of introspective instrumental artistry and passionate, electrifying energy, before building to a fantastically multi-layered and multi-faceted finale.
Perhaps more than any other I’ve heard this year, Mystical Future is an album designed to be explored and experienced as a journey, one that will remain as captivating and surprising on each listen as it was the very first time you encountered it. It’s an album that’s enchanting and fascinating throughout, uplifting and energising the listener whilst always challenging them to look a little further, to look a little closer, to look beyond their expectations and initial impressions, and to delve ever deeper into the music and into themselves.
It’s a true work of art, make no mistake. And one that deserves to be heard.
Mystical Future will be released on vinyl by Sick Man Getting Sick Records, on cassette by Grimoire Cassette Cvlture (U.S.) and Monotonstudio Records (Europe)S and on CD by Les Acteurs de l’ombre Productions.
The tape pre-orders are available now via these links: