AN NCS ALBUM PREMIERE (AND A REVIEW): VITAL SPIRIT — “STILL AS THE NIGHT, COLD AS THE WIND”
In the Faith That Looks Through Death, the 2020 debut EP of Vital Spirit (which we had the privilege of premiering), was a true gem. Black metal provided the backbone for the music, but it flourished through the fuel of other wide-ranging inspirations, both conceptual and musical.
The band is a Vancouver duo — guitarist/bassist/vocalist Kyle Tavares (Seer, Wormwitch) and drummer Israel Langlais (Wormwitch) — but the EP took shape in between Wormwitch’s 2018 and 2019 American tours, and thus it was animated by the lands to the south that these two saw and the histories of those places. “Harrowing ballads imbued with the enduring spirit of the Americas” is how they described that four-song EP, and through it they brought to life visions of the Old West and Southwest of the U.S.
After hearing that remarkable EP we hoped it wouldn’t be a one-off adventure but instead an excursion that would continue. “There is, after all,” we wrote, “a lot of source material in the history and landscapes of the Americas that’s yet to be mined!” We and a lot of other fans have gotten our wish, because on May 6th Vendetta Records and Hidden Tribe will release Vital Spirit‘s debut album, Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind.
photo by Robin Harris
The cover of the album depicts the Taos Pueblo church, an important architectural feature of the Taos Revolt, a populist insurrection in January 1847 by Hispano and Pueblo allies against the United States’ occupation of present-day northern New Mexico during the Mexican–American War. The album’s first single, “Dawn of Liberty”, narrates the tale of that doomed but ultimately vital insurrection. And thus these were early signs that Vital Spirit had decided to continue journeying the thematic landscape of the EP. And indeed they have.
In their lyrics, seven of the album’s eight tracks cover the American Indian wars of the Southwest, spanning events over a hundred years from the mid-18th century to the late 19th century: the destruction of the San Saba Mission (“Blood and Smoke“), the Battle of Blanco Canyon (“Bad Hand“), the afore-mentioned Taos Revolt (“Dawn of Liberty“), the Long Walk of the Navajo (“The Long Walk“); the Battle of Walker’s Creek (“Withering Fire“), the Bascom Affair (“White Eyes“), and the Red River War (“Lord of the Plains“).
The one song not on that list, “Saccharine Sky”, is a slow and spellbinding neofolk instrumental that swells in power. But it’s not a complete outlier, because even in the other seven tracks Vital Spirit continue developing the wide-ranging and unusual musical amalgamations displayed on the debut EP.
The principal influences of the EP — Ennio Morricone, Taake, Dissection, Drudkh, Inquisition, and Wovenhand – still come through, but the band have brought into play other elements as well, incorporating elements of “cowboy psychedelia” or the “saccharine underground” of the ’60s. They’ve disclosed that the work of Lee Hazelwood was particularly impactful, as the album’s title is taken from Sanford Clark’s “Still as the Night,” which was written and produced by Hazelwood (and which you can listen to here).
Which is to say that the album is the kind that will gratify fans of black metal who aren’t satisfied with “the usual suspects” (musically speaking), but search for music that shows them new faces and takes them to new places.
There’s plenty of Sturm und Drang in the music, and Vital Spirit are plenty good at delivering it, in full-throttle flurries of thoroughly electrifying drumwork, scathing riffage, searing leads, and scorched-earth screams, heavy on the reverb. But again, this is the backbone, not the complete creature.
Even at full throttle, the band bring in melodies of formidable evocative power, creating moods of frantic desperation, determined defiance, sweeping tragedy, and haunting grandeur. Even there, when the band are racing hell-for-leather, the melodies connect to the segment of Americana that’s the album’s thematic focus.
But the music ebbs as well as flows in torrents, and Vital Spirit also constantly interweave the other stylistic ingredients mentioned above, as well as instrumental variations that include acoustic folk guitar, the western twang of an electric guitar, and cello performances by Christopher Edward Brown (Kakophonix), all of which help reinforce the setting of the music and add vibrant new emotional textures. Moreover, the album includes moments of mesmerizing beauty (see especially the conclusions of “The Long Walk” and “Lord of the Plains”) and creates vast musical panoramas, evoking a sense of place as well as human events.
And so it’s with great pleasure that we give you a full stream of the album, a truly immersive and remarkable journey of great passion and dramatic power, best taken from start to finish.
The CD and cassette tape versions of the album will be released on May 6th by Vendetta and Hidden Tribe, respectively, while the vinyl version will follow later this year via Vendetta. For more info about the release, check these links:
This is pretty excellent, thanks for this gift!!