The debut album by the Belarusian black metal band Downcross, which we premiered in February, proved to be one of the best surprises of the new year, which was then barely two months old. The duo of vocalist/drummer Ldzmr and guitarist Dzmtr demonstrated impressive skill as songwriters and performers, creating emotionally powerful tracks loaded with magnetically attractive melodic hooks, physically compulsive rhythms, and dynamic changes of mood. With such abundant talent on display, Mysteries of Left Path left me quite interested to hear what Downcross might do next. I just didn’t expect I would find out so soon.
Not even seven months later, Downcross are on the verge of releasing a second album, What Light Covers Not, on September 11th. Of course Downcross didn’t start working on these seven new songs for the first time after their debut album was released. The process probably began long before that. But it might still be fair to wonder how good the album is, given the relatively short time between the two releases. Though my own opinion is obvious — because today we’re premiering the new album, as we did the first one — I’ll just make it explicit: What Light Covers Not is really, really good.
Downcross are very much a ferocious black metal band — they can blast and ravage with considerable intensity, and Ldzmr’s voice is scorching — but what sets them apart is the high quality of the songwriting. First and foremost, the songs on the new album (with the exception of two instrumental tracks that I’ll come to eventually) are just packed to the brim with tremendous riffs and engaging melodies. Downcross can blaze like a bonfire, but it’s all the addictive hooks, coupled with the hard-rocking grooves, that make this album one that’s so easy and so gratifying to come back to, over and over.
Moreover, as on the debut album, the songs are dynamically crafted. Dzmtr has a formidable talent for creating, for want of a better word, “foundational” melodies for each song, and then adapting them, elaborating upon the musical themes in ways that change the mood within each song without losing the coherence of those themes. You get a fine example of that in the opener, “To Cross the Path of Fire”, where the vibrant riff that dances almost joyfully over hammering propulsion alters in a way that becomes deranged, and then seems to straddle a line between fierce exuberance and grim resignation.
The opening track also reveals the dynamism of the drum rhythms and the impact of a big bass presence. As in the case of the first album, the rhythm section can get the blood racing through the veins, but regularly launch into big, swaggering rock cadences that will give a headbanger a good workout. The jolting rhythm that launches “Opening the Shells of Spreading Chaos” will also give your neck a good workout, before the song starts moving between ravaging combines of blasting and tremolo’d threshing and booming rock cadences with near-anthemic chords.
As the rhythms change within the songs, they seem to mesh perfectly (and sometimes unexpectedly so) with the alterations in the riffing. The bracing riff that begins and ends the tremendously infectious title track seems beleaguered and even anguished, and the mood persists even when the rushing rhythm becomes a swaggering menace as the riff boils with heartache. The title track really is wonderful, dipping into even more melancholy melodies that become entrancing.
Despite the thrilling energy and physically gripping momentums of the songs, darkness is a constant companion. “Opening the Shells…” might be powerfully groovy, but it’s also sinister and sadistic and violently chaotic. “The Making Will Not Be Commited” is heavy and head-moving, but foreboding. It’s incredibly catchy, but mixes feelings of cold, bruising cruelty and whirling, painful grief. “Vama Marga” rocks and gallops, but shifts into a stately and sorrowful swinging march, and the folk-like melody at its core is shaded in gloom.
The album is a high-energy, adrenaline-fueled experience straight through until dead-center in the album, when the sound of cold wind opens “In the Thoughtless Black Light”. The track unfolds into a moody, inward-looking acoustic guitar duet that becomes a mesmerizing reverie, and a very satisfying digression from the pulse-pounding excitement that precedes and follows it. And there’s another acoustic guitar instrumental on the album. That second one, “Kingdom Of The Absent One”, was chosen by Downcross to close the record. But it’s far from a dull, conventional outro track. Seemingly influenced by both classical and folk traditions, it’s sorrowful and haunting, and becomes one last demonstration of what a skilled guitarist Dzmtr is.
With pleasure, we now present a full stream of What Light Covers Not, which for this reviewer has made Downcross not just a big surprise, but a big favorite among this year’s discoveries.