Recommended for fans of: Shining, Blut Aus Nord, Dark Fortress
Ok, so this officially makes three Black Metal centric editions of The Synn Report in a row, and I swear I’ll try and change things up in April, but the release of the new album from Canadian iconoclasts Idol of Fear earlier this month meant that I couldn’t resist making them the focus of this article.
It helps that the band are an atypical example of Black Metal (some have tagged them as “experimental”, though I think that’s pushing it a bit far), as while the genre’s fundamentals are still a part of their sound they are, more often than not, incorporated and arranged in a pleasingly unorthodox fashion.
The guitars, for example, don’t hesitate to spin up some terrifically twisted tremolo melodies when they need to, but are just as often to be found strutting their stuff in a ghoulish, Shining-esque groove, or cutting loose with some strange, proggy solo work.
Similarly, the snarling vocals are delivered with a crisp sense of clarity and a wealth of cruel character, rather than just attempting to sound as evil and nasty as possible, and while blastbeats do make an appearance here and there, the overall pace of the music is far slower, and the drumming far more measured and intricate, than your average bunch of blackened blasturbators.
Combine that with an overarching atmosphere of encroaching darkness and dread (similar in many ways to the vaunted “Dark Metal” of Bethlehem) and you’ve got a trilogy of albums seemingly purpose-built to challenge your expectations when it comes to Black Metal!
ALL SIGHTS AFFIXED, ABLAZE – 2014
With its unconventional, undulating riffs and anguished, all-too-human vocals – reminiscent, to an extent, of Nidingr‘s masterful Greatest of Deceivers album, opener “Vanquish” immediately lets you know, if that introduction above didn’t already clue you in, that Idol of Fear aren’t interested in playing it safe.
The warped technicality of the guitars, the prowling, predatory pace of the drums, the smatterings of eerie, esoteric melody – not to mention the mid-song transformation into brooding, instrumental proggery – are all indicative of a band following their own path through the Black Metal badlands, and the strutting swagger and moody introspection of “Morningstar” (which should very much appeal to fans of genre-defying dissidents like Shining and Odraza) only further reaffirms this impression.
The blend of heaving, hypnotic riffs and Porcupine Tree-esque prog which makes up “Circle of Vortices” certainly reinforces the band’s own description of themselves as “undeniable, undefinable…”, while also providing an excellent showcase for the album’s clever and captivating drum work, after which the intoxicating hooks and blackened intensity of the title track once again demonstrate that Idol of Fear don’t like to play by anyone’s rules but their own.
The gloomy acoustics, gargantuan grooves, and gravel-gargling vocals of “It Demands” certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on any of the more recent Bethlehem albums, while both the bitter, Blackened Doom stomp of “It Militates” (easily one of the highlights of the album’s second half, though there aren’t really any low points to speak of) and the heavy, chugging riffs, seething fury, and artful acoustic embellishments of “It Tyrannizes” continue to defy easy categorisation.
Closing with the unexpectedly progressive – and similarly uncategorisable – strains of “Carrion”, All Sights Affixed, Ablaze clearly establishes that Idol of Fear have put very few borders or boundaries on their particular brand of “Black Metal” (if, indeed, that’s still the correct term) and instead view it as a means to an end, rather than an end unto itself. Which, let me tell you know, bodes very well for their future indeed…
GRAVE APERTURE – 2018
Of course, it ended up taking four long years for that future to come to fruition, but one listen to extravagant eight-minute opener “Provenance” – whose dramatic, dynamic sound is somehow both more and less Black Metal than anything off the band’s previous album, tipping its hat to everyone from The Ruins of Beverast to Krallice to latter-day Emptiness (the latter especially) – should convince you that the band clearly did not spend those years idle.
An altogether darker and more immersive album than its predecessor – somehow simultaneously harsher yet also more eerily infectious – Grave Aperture continues to refine and re-define the band’s singular sound as it goes on, moving from the twisting, turning dissonance and melody of “Salting the Wounds” to the bone-chilling, gut-churning grooves of “Where Truth Distorts the Light” with effortless ease and confidence.
This album, as demonstrated both during the opener and the sinister slow-burn of “A Grand Deception” (think mid-period Blut Aus Nord in the middle of a major existential crisis), also finds the group exploring their doomier proclivities, while the gloomy glamour of “Initiates of the Flame” and the unexpectedly anthemic “Bereft” find them erring more towards a Dark Rock/Metal sound reminiscent of modern Bethlehem or Secrets of the Moon, replete with unpredictably proggy, but undeniably catchy, song-writing and lashings of gorgeously dark and dreamlike melody.
As you may have already gathered then, Grave Aperture doesn’t do much to help you put Idol of Fear in a particular box or category, and neither the penultimate track, “Septicemia” – just over four minutes of strange, stuttering riffs, piercing Post-Black melody, and taut, technically-tasteful drums – nor captivating closer “Ekpyrosis” do much to help in this manner either.
The latter in particular is a perfect example, and a fantastic final summation, of the band’s expressive, experimental ethos, its scornful, strutting riffs and lithe, limber rhythm section eventually giving way to an extended finale of uncanny atmosphere and unsettling occult ambience (underpinned by yet more excellent and perfectly proportioned bass and drum work) that makes certain that, regardless of the fact that you can’t put a simple label on it, this is one album you’ll find yourself coming back to again and again.
TRESPASSER – 2022
On their third album the band have continued to expand their creative palette even further, delving even deeper into doomier, sludgier territory, while still retaining that bleak, blackened edge, and even flirting with some mechanistic, pseudo-industrial elements here and there.
All of these elements are immediately apparent, to a greater or lesser extent, on opener “The Flayed Horizon”, whose ominous pace and oppressive atmosphere wouldn’t have sounded out of place during Blut Aus Nord‘s similarly unconventional 777 era, while the anxiety inducing pseudo-melodies and intricate, rippling drums of “Angel Dust” give off some major – albeit, even doomier – Dark Fortress vibes.
The band also appear to be leaning even harder into their more occult and spiritual side on this album, as epitomised by the haunting blackened hymnal that is “Cheirotonia” – a song as coldly compelling as it is claustrophobic – and the even more riveting and ritualistic “Phantom” (whose arcane atmospherics recall the bleakest and most baleful moments of Schammasch at their very best).
The title-track is five minutes of desolate Blackened Doom whose cripplingly slow pace and morbidly infectious melodies sit somewhere between the esoteric extremity of Dødsengel and the moody melancholy of early Katatonia, while the hypnotic hooks and mesmerising percussive patterns of “In the Cold Light of Dawn” strike a similar nerve to that of latter-day Infestus.
Then there’s the malevolent, doom-laden riffs and malignant, psychotropic melodies of “Alone With You” – all underpinned by a blend of pulsating percussion and dismal, desolate atmosphere – which help make the song one of the album’s (many) highlights, with the soul-destroying death-march of “What You Came to Find” (a song whose almost six-and-a-half minute run-time seems to disappear in almost the blink of an eye) not far behind.
Closing in predictably unpredictable fashion with the gloomy, synth-based instrumental strains of “Endless”, Trespasser proves itself to be not only the densest, doomiest record of the band’s career thus far, it’s also the most haunting and atmospheric, one which finds the group plumbing new depths of sonic darkness while also elevating their artistic and melodic ambitions to new heights at the same time.
Truly one of 2022’s best – and most endlessly intriguing – albums.