Yesterday the two-man black metal band Selbst, originally from Venezuela and now based in Chile, released their self-titled debut album through Sun & Moon Records. This follows the band’s striking 2015 EP, An Ominous Landscape, which I briefly reviewed here. The new album is a substantial work, nearly 48 minutes long, and it confirms the considerable promise of the band’s previous shorter releases. More than that, it’s a gleaming ice-blue nova in the midnight vault of 2017 black metal.
Augmented by a spectacularly powerful production, the music is titanically heavy, potent enough to rumble your core, with many of the elaborately textured sounds reverberating as if recorded in a quartzite cavern (because the music shines as well as thunders) — from the spine-rattling drumwork to the penetrating, otherworldly guitar melodies that shimmer, swirl, and soar through blanketing storms of abrasion.
But it’s the kind of album that immaculately marries atmosphere to explosive physicality, and it also achieves a rare, knife-edge balance between the ensnaring repetition of gripping patterns and the head-spinning intricacy of progressive flourishes. The songs are in near-constant motion, in the sense of movement between differing shades of darkness, different tempos, moments of unsettling calm and terrible conflict.
But make no mistake, an ominous darkness drapes everything to one degree or another. Selbst plumb abyssal depths, their music chillingly ominous and doom-cloaked, and they also achieve heights of bombastic yet apocalyptic grandeur, the songs boiling over into volcanic surges of sweeping majesty, with the same awe-inspiring effect of witnessing giant gouts of magma and columns of sulfurous smoke erupting into a pitch-black sky, with lightening arcing out of the poisonous ash clouds.
There are hard-rocking, thoroughly captivating riffs within these songs, and glorious solos capable of picking you up and carrying you aloft. Yet even in the moments of most spellbinding beauty (and there are many such moments), the atmosphere remains unearthly and perilous, as if a calamitous fate awaits on the other side of the incandescence that now dazzles your attention… as if while you are transfixed, with eyes wide open, a fatal poison is seeping into the lungs and blood.
The album is a wholly immersive and powerfully sorcerous experience, brilliantly composed and skillfully executed. It kept me rooted in place from beginning to end — or perhaps more accurately, turned to stone as if drawn into the gaze of a Medusa.
The greatest credit for the towering achievements of the album must go to Selbst’s creative powerhouse, N., who wrote the music and performed all the instruments other than the drums (which are handled brilliantly by session drummer Jonathan Heredia).
But huge credit must also be laid upon the head of the vocalist on this album, N. Onfray. His voice is almost as much of a marvel as the music to which he lends his terrifying talents. His spiky, snarling growl seems to rise up from the belly of a massive, hungry beast, and when his voice really does rise up in the ultimate throes of emotional extremity — in explosive, extended cries of anguish and fury — it can bring goosebumps to the skin.
I rarely nit-pick albums I think are good, even when there are nits to pick. But I’m damned if I can think of any criticisms, even tiny ones, that struck me as I’ve listened to this album. Its effect is so overwhelming that it simply vaporizes every other thought or sensation a listener might have other than a single-minded focus on what Selbst are doing as they run their course. And I’ve found that the wholly engulfing effect of the music doesn’t stop with a single listen. It happens again and again, with each successive trip through the album. This is a record that will stay with me for a very long time.
Selbst was mixed and mastered by Simon Da Silva (theemptyhallstudio.com). Vocals were recorded at Rubicon Studios, and the artwork was created by Fabio Rincones.
The album is available from Sun & Moon Records in a digipack edition with a 12-page booklet, as well as digitally through Bandcamp.
Selbst on Facebook: