Black metal fans are spoiled for choice this year. New albums from Deafhaven and Altar of Plagues for those seeking experimentation and Emperor’s forthcoming resurrection for the traditionalists have made 2013 a landmark year for the genre.
Faced with such competition, it’s naturally harder to make an impact. But Lions Of Tsvao are a band up to the task.
Though their sound does stem from death metal, it is the blackened elements that make the album excellent. Mercurial and ethereal, Lions make their mark in modern black and death metal by refining the experimentation of their peers. With flashes of post-rock that never descend into navel-gazing and the ferocious instrumental assault that comes with the territory, Lions are a serious force to be reckoned with and also a choice for the more discerning connoisseur.
Black metal has always bred meddlers. For every template band who sound like cats screaming ‘Satan’ in a dilapidated bathroom, there’s always an alternate group fiddling with things. Traverser marks a point where bands have taken recent developments and distilled them, though it never feels like a ‘greatest hits’ of modern black metal. Rather, this is a ferocious and nuanced record, and an excellent example of songwriting coming into prominence. Everything hangs together excellently, flashes of Marduk-esque belligerence creeping in to drive the album forward, whilst Deafhaven-style atmospheric passages keep it loose.
The album comes to a peak around the end of the first quarter. Circuital and Hibernation sound like some of Mastodon’s more leftfield compositions; watery and ephemeral (think Aqua Dementia or Seabeast). From then the atmosphere is magnified with sudden bursts of architectural black metal brutality creeping back in. Permafrost’s title will automatically endear itself to traditionalists but is again somewhat of a departure, all fills and escalating drone riffs. Sea Of Crises is a return to ferocity and also the longest track on the album, an emotive climax. Album closer Negentropy descends even deeper into experimentation to the point of largely being noise-rock, concluded with a single authoritative thud of percussion, an excellent example of the band’s grasp of how long an idea should be strung out for.
The instrumentation is superb, a particular highlight being Josh Dawkins’s drumming, reminiscent of Frost (Satyricon, 1349) and Brann Dailor (Mastodon). The tightness of his playing grounds the album and stops the looseness from developing into self-indulgence or dissipating. It’s also interesting and fluid, precise without being stale. It’s this which bridges the gap between the primal ethos of black metal and the cathartic nature of post-rock.
Lions’ power, urgency and depth of songwriting make this a very worthy release. Though the trvest of the trve will be disappointed that there’s not enough to cling to, hipsters will bemoan that there maybe isn’t enough of a focus on boundary-pushing and others will be left scrambling for a dictionary, these sacrifices have been at the expense of presenting a unified whole.
It is encouraging to see black and death metal evolve and mature so long after their inception; Lions Of Tsvaro look set to become a torchbearer for modern extreme metal.