Posted by Nick Skog on Friday, January 31, 2014 Under: Album Reviews
From: The 10th Doctor of Prog
Published: January 31, 2014
2013 saw a new age for black metal. The age of accessibility and mainstream coverage. Yes, as most black metal fans will point out, ‘hipster’ black metal happened long before Deafheaven dropped Sunbather, but 2013 really saw it take off, with huge appeal worldwide, a following on the trendiest of music boards and support from the trendiest of publications. 2013, coincidentally, was the year I got into black metal, but I wasn’t a Sunbather bandwagoner, my newfound love of the genre came around January, after albums like Portal of I, Les voyages de l'âme and RIITIIR from 2012 convinced me that the genre may actually be worth looking into.
I’ll never understand why Sunbather, of all the great recent black metal albums, was the one to grab on and gain credibility from the mainstream media. I mean, those vocals are hardly the most accessible, and the dry and repetitive chord sequences aren’t that impressive, yet Sunbather gained a huge fandom of mostly post-rock fans, coming in hordes for the crescendos and emotion. But it’s most certainly not the record I would show people who I wanted to get into black metal. I’d show them this.
I’m honestly not certain how I found No Stars, Only Full Dark, since it just seemed to appear in my library one day. Early 2013 was awash with adding ridiculous amounts of new music to my library, so this getting lost somewhere in there and ending up in my ears doesn’t seem impossible, but the fact that I found it before it had been officially released is a bit odd. Up until today, with the CD reissue on Hypnotic Dirge Records, No Stars, Only Full Dark was not officially available, yet the copy of it floating around the torrent sites begged to differ.
I’m surprised how little this album has caught on, however, because as I said earlier, this is possibly the most accessible black metal album I know, and I most certainly don’t mean that in a negative way. This album has seven tracks, and each of them takes a different side of the modern black metal scene. Some heavy, some soft. Some completely black metal, some not at all. I could compare it to an album like Pantheist (which, coincidentally, I ordered from the store at the same time as this), which I use as my ‘intro to doom metal’ album, since each track seems to tackle a different side, yet all of them feel cohesive as a distinct entity, and all of them have a fantastic melody to back it up.
It’s this variation within No Stars, Only Full Dark that makes it such a great record to show how great modern black metal can be. Pull an atmospheric black metal record from the late 90’s, and what you hear in the first four minutes is likely what you’ll hear for the entire record. Cold, dismal, fuzzy as hell and emotionally intense, but on the whole, rather repetitive and boring. No Stars doesn’t do this, it takes the ideas and riffs and puts different spins on them each time. We have a pretty black metal track here in “No More Entry, No More Exit”, but once the 10 minutes of that track has run its course, Windbruch don’t really feel the need to do it again, so it not only becomes a unique track within this record, but you learn to appreciate it as a specific part.
On the flip side of this, we have the softer and more modern sounding tracks, the ones like “Only Full Dark”, which is more or less a dark ambient track with some other genres thrown in there, or “Neswa-Pawuk” which is basically Les Discrets-style shoegaze. But not only is there variation in sound and genre, there is also large variation in the vocals, something that a lot of black metal fails to do. I think, probably due to the incredible mixing on this record, these vocals are simultaneously dark and harsh but also accessible and inoffensive. This album is one of the few albums I can show to people who aren’t fans of black metal and get minimal response about the vocals, because they fit so snugly into the mix with the guitars. The harsh vocals here are pretty typical black metal, but on “A City of Fire”, they bring a bit of a death/doom metal twist to them. Aside from the harsh vocals, we have some distorted and skewed spoken word samples on “Only Full Dark” that are twisted beyond recognition into a brilliant and dark atmospheric noise. A similar effect is used on the clean vocals on “Neswa-Pawuk”, bringing to mind the ambient and vague cleans on Alcest and Sigur Rós albums.
The production here is another great bonus Windbruch have. It bridges the gap between the fuzzy and lo-fi production of traditional black metal and the crisp and clear production of some more modern blackgaze. But the standout here is the kit, particularly the snare, which is one of the best snare sounds I have heard, maybe even since the classic snare on Dream Theater’s Images and Words. I could compare the kit here to many of the modern blackgaze bands like An Autumn for Crippled Children or Woods of Desolation, but it also reminds me a lot of bands like The National, in their modern, post-punk inspired sound. The gorgeous drum perfectly compliments the guitar, which goes from fuzzy to clean within a single track (evident in “No More Entry, No More Exit”), to doom metal (“A City of Fire”) to ambient and shoegazey (“Neswa-Pawuk”), all without sounding like a bunch of random tones thrown together. I’ve mentioned previously the excellent mixing on this, with the vocals and guitars so perfect together, but I’ll also give a quick mention to the fantastic stereo usage on the intro of “Flashback to My Lake”, with the drums fluttering across from one ear to another in their perfect tone and place.
But I think behind all this great production and range of influences and diversity of performance is still fantastic music. Classic black metal has always been about riffs, about memorable melodies in a mist of darkness. Sure, a lot of them are muddied by production and recording quality, but the riffs are still melodic brilliance. And Windbruch’s riffs are no different, but I feel Windbruch do it better than many. I’ve heard their riffs compared to Nargaroth, but Nargaroth seem to have the view of writing a riff and then just playing it on repeat for 10 minutes. Sure, if the riff is that good, it might work, but often they’re not. Windbruch don’t mess around trying to be gargantuan and monolithic. A riff stays its welcome and then breaks into a new one before it becomes tired. The lead riff in “No More Entry, No More Exit” is truly excellent, and if this were Nargaroth, it would be a whole track. But after a couple of minutes it gets boring, so they switch it up and pull into one of the best BM riffs I know, about 2 minutes into the track. It’s this change and melodic brilliance that makes Windbruch such an accessible band, because their melodies are just so good, regardless of the production or kvltness. “No Stars” has a celesta/glockenspiel motif that runs through it, and although it’s still a heavy track, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be humming that melody when the song is long done.
I fear I’ve been raving a bit, but the point of this essay is that at about 15 months of enjoying black metal, and after hearing 114 albums in the genre, this one is still my favourite (unless you count Alcest, but I don’t). It’s the catchiest, the darkest, the best produced and the most memorable. This is a classic album if ever I heard one. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by: Gallifrey
In : Album Reviews
Tags: windbruch no stars only full dark rodion silentium! atmospheric black metal post black metal ambient black metal soundtrack