Controversy over use of occult and anti-human (Nazi?) symbolism has done some small amount of work in creating hype for several highly successful/sold-out small run prints of Australian heavy psych/black metal band Black Magick SS‘ discography. Their earliest works offered a creaking, tape noise haunted exploration of 70’s World War II exploitation film style shtick but more importantly their style fused lo-fi black metal aesthetics with keyboard driven heavy psychedelic rock music. Bleat all you will about swastikas and the dire, frightening state of the world around you; It is yet still impossible to deny the swirling, glorious majesty of this project’s use of acid rock epithets, The Doors-esque keyboard melodies, and general ‘occult rock’ swing.
The ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ EP in 2015 was perhaps the first and largest turning point for Black Magick SS‘ sound as their previous drummer passed away and their sound took a cathedral-esque, mournful tone that bordered on doom metal on tracks like “Black Magick Army”. This was perhaps the point where occult rock hipsters and underground black metal fandom became more prominent, and for good reason. The distinct low fidelity recording and haunting Hammond-esque organ tones were something new and well in tune with (then) current trends of psychedelic rock and extreme metal mash-ups. The lo-fi approach wouldn’t last entirely, though.
I remember exactly when I first heard ‘The Black Abyss’ compilation, my own personal introduction to the band, which had three new tracks in a NWOBHM-lite heavy psych style alongside all of Black Magic SS‘ previous EP releases. I was waiting for an hour delayed Amtrak, what passes for public transit in Los Angeles, from Pasadena to Sylmar after a hapless day at work. Somehow this odd Australian mix of retro psych rock with hints of extreme metal horror, and (possibly) questionable themes, was the right soundtrack for the 100° F day, the din of the masses, and the colorful graffiti that slowly passed by for the first mile. I dunno, I was hooked, it was something rare and immaculately conceived that combined my love for traditional heavy metal, driving heavy psych, and black metal.
In a rare feat their debut full-length ‘Kaleidoscope Dreams’ made good on the promising new material of ‘The Black Abyss’ with more of that distinct mix of 70’s psychedelic rock, organ grinding, with black metal vocals. Most notably there occurred a shift towards full-on Jefferson Airplane, Blue Öyster Cult and Uriah Heep melodies replacing some of the more traditional heavy metal style of previous works. As such the band really only seems to have held the attention of fans like me who really just want to see where the combination of black metal and psychedelia can possibly go, even though Black Magick SS are almost entirely a rock bad. Almost an exact year later we have a follow up that iterates rather than explores any further.
Never a lyrically cruel or politically driven experience, outside of certain cover art symbolism, Black Magick SS make gestures towards romancing the occult, tales of spiritual possession, and a vague-yet-frequent suggestion of darkness. As enamored as I was with some of their previous releases ‘Spectral Ecstasy’ brings nothing new, or comparatively vibrant. The gloomy lo-fi production of the past worked because the music reverberated within a chamber fit for their style of anthemic metal and occult rock. With some focus on early 80’s style guitar work, the chamber no longer fits. I really enjoy the organ work on songs like “Fallen Tale” and the title track but with somber and muted vocal performances it all sounds flatly uninspired if not purely cynical. Outside of the keyboard work, the non-metal leaning magic has slightly worn off for my taste and only “Black Hand” and “Spectral Ecstasy” truly hold my interest after repeat listening.
If you’re like me and your interest in Black Magick SS centered primarily around psychedelic treatments of black/heavy metal sub-genre bending, ‘Spectral Ecstasy’ is not an essential release compared to previous output. If you’re a huge fan of occult rock, heavy psych, and organ-driven rock music then this is absolutely your new shit for 2018. I’m not dying to hear more in this style, and this feeling stems from greater appreciation for ‘Kaleidoscope Dreams’, an album more fully realized and better written. Although it is iterative and forced to some degree, this wouldn’t be the worst introduction to the band’s music yet so far it is not their best.
|Released||April 16, 2018|
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Through a cosmic plain. 3.25/5.0
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