(This is Andy Synn’s review of the new album by Germany’s Heretoir.)
“Post-Black Metal” is a funny old term. Its relatively amorphous nature means that no-one can really fully agree quite what it refers to, or quite what its defining characteristics are as a (sub)genre.
But, to my mind, in order to be considered “Post Black Metal” a band has to have at least some actual Black Metal in their sound (yes, I know that, strictly speaking, “Post” implies after/beyond, but no-one expects a Post-Metal or Post-Rock band to NOT have any Metal/Rock in them, do they?).
It’s not enough to just have a little bit of blackened DNA left over in your system, or just to count certain bands among your influences… if your music doesn’t contain at least some of the sonic markers of Black Metal, then why even bother referring, even obliquely, to it at all?
The reason I’m saying all this is that there are a lot of bands out there, particularly in these Post-Alcest years, who could be considered as Post- “Post Black Metal” at this point, and a full 666 degrees of separation removed from the genre from which they (supposedly) derive their sound.
And while there are those who still think/act like using the words “Black Metal” gives whatever they’re talking about a certain amount of instant credibility, the truth of the matter is that the over-use of terms like “Black Metal” and “Post Black Metal” has not only diluted their meaning in a frankly rather unhelpful manner, but also led to many otherwise worthwhile artists being judged (and found wanting) by a wholly inappropriate set of standards.
So please, don’t think of The Circle as a “Post Black Metal” album. It’s not. But if you judge it on its own merits, by what it is, rather than what you think it should be, I think you’ll find that it really is a great album on its own terms.
Across eleven tracks the second album by Germany quartet Heretoir deals not in doom and darkness, but in shimmering patterns of light and shade, eschewing the more “blackened” elements which littered their debut – blastbeats, when they appear, are used only sparingly, and what tremolo riffs there are tend more towards the glorious, than the grim – in favour of a sound which smoothly blends elegant atmosphere and eloquent catharsis in a manner which balances the dreamlike melody of latter-day Alcest with the metallic melancholia of mid-2000s era Katatonia.
Throughout numbers like the dynamic “The White” and the gorgeous “Golden Dust” the guitars of David Conrad and Maximilian Forst (also of Agrypnie and King Apathy, respectively) gleam and glisten with a mix of gorgeous, flowing melody and thrilling vitality, while Conrad’s vocals split their time between a solemn, silken croon and a harsher, more harried howl, brimming with angst and anguish.
Every shining note, every soothing acoustic chord or punchy, driving rhythm, is given life by an utterly impeccable, crystal-clear production job – just take a listen to the multiple threads of melody and harmony which make up effervescent instrumental “My Dreams Are Lights In The Sky” for a perfect example – and underpinned by an energetic performance from guest drummer Tobias Schuler, whose impressively nuanced playing style only serves to add yet further layers of intricacy and texture.
Over the course of the album the band’s increasing preference for clean vocals over harsh screams becomes ever more obvious (the pulse-quickening “Fading With the Grey” notwithstanding), with the latter used primarily more to provide contrast and punctuation to Conrad’s effortlessly emotive clean-sung delivery, which is reminiscent, in places, of both Novembre’s Carmelo Orlando (the glowing “Eclipse”) and Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue (“Inhale”).
As much as The Circle represents a huge step forward for the band from their self-titled – particularly in terms of their more organic and fluid sense of songwriting and composition – it does have one, relatively minor, flaw in that, at sixty-five minutes in length, it’s just ever so slightly too long.
Not by much, of course, but just enough to be noticeable, to this scribe at least. And cutting the rather slight and ephemeral “Laniakea Dances” (which, despite featuring a guest appearance from Neige himself, seems relatively insubstantial when compared to the rest of the album) would perhaps have perfected the whole experience.
Other than that, however, there’s little, if anything, to criticise about this album. Not only is it (almost) perfectly put together, all the pieces arranged in seamless fashion, all the parts aligned in one direction, but the emotional experience it offers is also absolutely second to none.
The Circle will be released by Northern Silence Productions on March 24, 2017. It features cover art by Fursy Teyssier.