Dec 052022

I discovered the Spanish black metal band Ouija last year, thanks to their EP Selenophile Impia, which left me moonstruck (as I wrote in a review here). That was not Ouija‘s first recording. In fact, they released their first album in 1997 and a second one in 2013. From those dates you can deduce that Ouija don’t hurry things, and so their forthcoming third album comes nine years after the second one, though it follows fairly quickly on the heels of that fantastic 2021 EP.

The title of the third album is Fathomless Hysteros and its release date is December 26th. Arriving on that particular date, so late in the year, it will elude the attention of year-end list makers, and maybe many other listeners. That would be a tragic outcome — for listeners — because this album is a triumphant achievement, one of the best this writer has heard in 2022, and one that shows all signs of becoming a long-lasting favorite. I’ll try to explain why.

So far, only the album’s title track has been publicly disclosed, along with a lyric video. It also happens to be the song that opens the album — and does so in ways that are both electrifying and unnerving. The guitars sear and writhe, and as the song proceeds the riffing becomes increasingly deranged — just like the wild, attention-seizing variations in the drumwork and the mad and malignant vocals, which reverberate as if recorded in a frightening cavern or a vast hall of Hades.

The fleet-fingered riffing and the fire-bright leads continually change, just like the strikingly variable drumming, and it creates immersive swaths of sound that are both fiery and cold, frighteningly intense and wretchedly abysmal, and altogether hellish, just like the words.

Six more songs follow that startling first track, and like the opener, they display a vivid production quality, one which proves that clarity can be achieved without sacrificing grit or power. The richly layered guitars both swarm the mind and pierce it like lightning strikes. That vampire voice both abrades and rings, undoubting and haughty in its vehemence. The cymbals crash and shine, and the drums hurtle and stalk, rattle and boom, as if the kit had been set up in your own room for your private pleasure. The bass throbs like your own pulse will.

The songs, though often strikingly vicious, are pleasingly elaborate, and very effective at channeling an array of dark moods. There’s a feeling of swaggering menace that comes through in the midst of the attacking tirade of “Bestia negra“, and the slashing, squirming, and whining melodies of the mid-paced “I See You Without Eyes” seem to portray misery and hopelessness, Even the vividly darting guitar arpeggio in that song sounds like a yearning plea for salvation that won’t be answered, and the vocalist’s cries reach heights of wrenching anguish.

As “I See You Without Eyes” proves, Quija are just as effective at rendering heartbreak as they are at mounting barbarous assaults. Indeed, that song might be the most captivating, mood-altering, and memorable song on the whole album. It flows like a vast dark river of torment and grief that pulls the listener under. There’s a temptation to pause when it ends, to let its beautiful, sorrowful harmonies continue to ring in your head.

If that song (which is the album’s longest one) were the only song from the album you had heard, you might be tempted to classify Quija as atmospheric, depressive, and/or melodic black metal. But it’s just a sign of Quija‘s dynamic and multi-faceted talents — and the signs of that keep coming.

With “The Fifth Rider“, that dynamism takes a bright spotlight in riveting fashion. Quija meld jolting martial motifs, riffing of frenzied confusion and despair, and utterly spine-tingling cries, matched with another typically varying performance by the rhythm section. And again, Quija bring in sweeping, ringing melodies that sound beseeching and heartbroken, yet they also bring grim guitars and harsh howls that seem determined and defiant.

Black metal sub-genre classifications can be notoriously subjective, but a song like “Hijo del caído” reinforces the feeling that, notwithstanding the tumultuous ferocity of Ouija‘s energies, they could easily be denominated with those previously mentioned terms — atmospheric, depressive, and melodic. Their music is more elaborate (even elegant), and certainly more memorable, than the great mass of blackened blasphemers.

And while (yet again) there’s a feeling of heartbreak in “Adversary“, that song includes peals of guitar glory and a sense of panoramic sweep that make it majestic, and thus it’s entirely fitting that “Adversary” includes both reverent singing and a soul-piercing solo. But Quija‘s songcraft really is all about dynamism, and so “Adversary” is also home to jolting heavy-metal chords, imperious marching cadences, heroic yells, and a second solo (in which two guitars join forces) that’s inspiring.

Truthfully, there are no weak links in Fathomless Hysteros. Even at the end, “Unbridled Transylvanian Passion” is a wide-ranging experience — amalgamating inner turmoil, grasping hopes, sinister witchiness, wild fierceness, extravagant fervor (the vocals are again amazing), transcendent splendor, and a refusal to yield.

It’s abundantly clear that Quija‘s creative fires are now burning brighter than ever before. The passions in the music are equally abundant, but translated with obvious planning and care, the kind of attention to detail that requires patience rather than anxiousness. And so, who knows how long we will wait for another Quija album? Hopefully not nine more years, but however long that may take, we can luxuriate in this one.

Frequent visitors to our site know that I almost never manage to write a stand-alone review of anything unless I’m hosting a premiere, mainly because I just don’t have time for that. Here, I had some unexpected time, but I also felt I owed this album the time it took to write this, because it has quickly become one of my favorites of 2022. Because it will arrive in the immediate aftermath of the Christmas orgy, I fear it may get lost, which would be a damned shame. Maybe all these words will make that less likely to happen — I sure as hell hope so.

Fathomless Hysteros was recorded and mixed by Javi Felez at Moontower Studios and mastered by Magnus Andersson at Endarker Studio, Sweden. It will be released in Spain and Europe will be edited by Negra Nit distro; in Colombia by Tribulacion Productions; and in Mexico, the United States, and Canada by Azermedoth Records.

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