(Andy Synn steps up once more to recommend the brand new album from Gravenchalice)
It is a simple and well-known truth that the House of Black Metal has many rooms, many hallways.
And which path you choose to follow, which doors you choose to open, will dictate whether or not you end up going deeper into the dark, or coming out the other side.
It is also true that many, if not most, of these pathways have been well-worn by the passing of countless feet over the years, such that, whichever way you choose to turn, it is difficult not to find yourself walking in the footsteps of those who have gone before you.
This was clear enough on last year’s Apparition, the short-but-striking debut from Florida’s Gravenchalice, whose blend of hypnotic riffs and pulse-raising rhythms was reminiscent – in the best possible way – of some of the best work of Mgla, Misþyrming, and their ilk.
But with Samael, the group’s second album in just over a year, Gravenchalice have clearly – whether by accident or design – stepped away from the route they were following on their first record and have found themselves walking a much darker, and less-trodden, path.
This is obvious from the first moments of epic opener “Icarus”, which kicks things off in a much moodier and more mid-paced fashion than you might expect, slowly building momentum and intensity through the steady build-up of sinister, sinuous guitar layers and sly, slithering drum patterns, before eventually manifesting a storm of strafing blastbeats and rippling rhythms, only to then slow down and open up even further, allowing the band’s more progressive and atmospheric inclinations to take full rein for the song’s eerily immersive finale.
It’s a hell of an opening statement, that’s for sure, and one which immediately demonstrates how much greater the band’s ambition, and how much wider their wider vision, is on album number two.
And while they haven’t entirely abandoned the sound they began to cultivate on Apparition – both “Samael” and “Bellum” occasionally hearken back to the mesmerising melodies and enthralling extremity of the band’s first album, albeit these moments (especially during the latter track) are tightly woven into the fabric of a much darker and more forbidding tapestry – songs like the hellishly hypnotic “Cain” and the aforementioned “Icarus” err more closely, to my ears at least, to the ominous apotheosis of bands like Cult of Fire, Mephorash, and (early) Schammasch, while still possessing a compelling character of their own.
The band’s transformation – or perhaps “transubstantiation” would be more appropriate – is most firmly solidified by the climactic closing pairing of “Tartarus” and “Lamentations”.
The former finds them fully embracing the shift from slow-burning menace to face-melting intensity during its first half, only to transition into an almost purely ambient and atmospheric second chapter which still continues to hold your attention just as firmly, while the latter track gains its dramatic presence and dynamic power from the group’s intricate layering of brooding bass-lines, moody melodies, and dexterous drum work, all topped off with yet another captivating vocal performance which snarls and spits every line with cathartic conviction.
Make no mistake about it, this album marks a huge leap in evolution for Gravenchalice, in a very short space of time, and positions them no longer as just “ones to watch”, but as “ones to beat” when it comes to the world, and the house, of Black Metal.