May 122023

(What follows is Wil Cifer‘s review of Black Flame Eternal, the new album by Cloak which will be released on May 26th by Season of Mist.)

The Atlanta metal scene exists within a 9-mile radius of hipster filth pits. During my time in Atlanta I found myself woven into the fabric of this PBR-stained seediness. From that vantage point I watched Cloak claw their way past the battle vests and IPAs to become the gloomy black metal band capable of writing anthemic symphonies of shadow found on their third album Black Flame Eternal.

The praise I bestow on these guys is hard-fought, as I have warmed up to them a little more with each album, due to me being a huge Watain fan. Rather than win me over with the sonic similarities, it made me ask why should I listen to this when I own everything by both Watain and Dissection?

Photo by David Parham

Cloak began to prove there was more to them than a fetish for Swedish black metal on their 2019 album The Burning Dawn. This expansion has evolved even further on their third album. It was on my third listen of the song “Shadowlands” that a new level of clarity in this regard was reached. The song captures all of the colors of sound the band set in motion on this album. They bask in velveteen reds rather than the blood red of death metal, due to the intricate overlay of melodic guitar. The vocals stay at the same rasp, but are phrased in a more nuanced manner that flows over the riffs with a little more grace.

The riff to “Invictus” offers a little more groove, which distracts from this fact. The darker moments of the song also help to steer them away from this. It is another song that took several listens to sink in. The more anthemic build is not only a confident step forward in sound, but wins me over on “Invictus”, even after I thought lyrically it felt like someone asked AI to write a Watain song.

“Seven Thunders” might have impressive drumming, but defaulting to the standard black metal tempos compromises the sense of self established on “Shadowlands”, but with lyrics that might make you ask, are they really following the trail left by ravens? Or are they just saying that? “Eye of the Abyss” once again brings up ravens. There are some softly sung vocals that offer wider shades of vocal color to shift the shadows they are framed within. The chugged riff is too catchy to argue with. The pace picks up with “The Holy Dark”. The drums at the beginning reminded me more of King Diamond, but this goes in a more standard Swedish black metal direction.

Now it’s time to talk about the “goth” word that gets thrown around regarding this band. As someone who despite the best efforts of Robert Smith spent a couple hundred on tickets to The Cure, my definition of goth might have a higher bar than a few baritone mutterings here and there. Cloak‘s cleaner guitar tones are a more conscious attempt to move in that direction on the song “Heavenless”. Not enough of an overall directional shift to suggest these guys are as ready for Halloween as Type O Negative or even Paradise Lost. It’s fair to refer to the vocal performance on “Heavenless” as a passionate vocalization, rather than singing. The shift in vocal approach was the needed change in mood, from the snarl that serves as the primary lyrical vessel for the bulk of the album.

The moodiness seething under the raging buzz of guitars culminates into the last song (the title track) that marches with less abandon.

The time they took in the studio to dial in everything just right was the fine-tuning they needed to surpass the previous album. I also get the sense they were not trying as hard when it came to the songwriting, and everything flows in a natural motion this time around. Direction-wise this feels like the next logical step down the Left Hand Path, so their fans should appreciate this more fully realized creative vision.

The melodic nature of the songs preps the band to be discovered by a larger audience, though fans of black metal who have heard Cloak’s name but never checked these guys out might need to proceed with caution if their taste falls along the side of raw production value and tempestuous blast beats. This is not that but falls more along the lines of Behemoth and Satyricon. The album takes a few listens to sink in, but proves a rewarding listen.

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