Having cropped up as a death metal pustule, a nascent boil within the truly rural Madison, Wisconsin death metal scene of the 1990’s (see: Embalm) musician Andy Schoengrund would find himself in Minneapolis a decade later; Pacing in the circular atmospheric instrumental sludge of Empires for a half a decade. The guitarists intuitive sense of ‘the way forward’ through heavier post-metal exploration would land him smack in the early career-building works of notable blackened sludge metal hybrid Wolvhammer. There his modern sensibilities saw increasing presence between the likely pre-written ‘Black Marketeers of World War III’ and the breakthrough performances of ‘The Obsidian Plains’. Whether this was a tutelage or self-directed refinement, much of those lessons learned would directly translate into the first breaths of his own project Feral Light as it formed in 2015. A post-metal informed black metal jog in tune with their most recent works, the first two years of the project lead by the vocals of Jeff Scheuermann (Incarnate Deity) were pronounced in their post-metal influenced, hardcorish, war-themed attack to the point of tedium. Abrasive and adorned with myriad non-statement ‘A Sound of Moving Shields’ (2016) EP appeared as if stricken with mange and abraded into a stumbling, bloody-black mess. Nearly Cascadian in affect and rumbling with neo-crust structures Feral Light‘s debut ‘Void/Sanctify’ (2017) was a departure from that earlier conception in that it embraced post-black metal structures and amplified the black ‘n roll symptoms noticed previous. It was not a fully formed or particularly clever undertaking nor was it clear if the project had intended the volatility of blackened sludge metal or the perspicacious vision quest of post-black metal with black ‘n roll interruptus. With their second album, ‘Fear Rides a Shadow’, Feral Light scour away previous naivete with an admirable self-surety and greatly focused compositional values.
New skin has grown healthily after stripping away the atmospheric black metal and post-metal cliches previous unto a translucent cellular layer. The reduction of Feral Light to a duo of Schoengrund (guitar, bass, vocals) and drummer Andrew Reesen provides a honing for the blackened blade of their black ‘n roll influenced style. ‘Fear Rides a Shadow’ marks a new point of freedom and refinement for the project that manifests as a sort of ranting, rhythmically satisfying take on black ‘n roll that resembles the transitional works of Glorior Belli towards their sludge/southern rock influence guitar tyranny. Long gone are the war themed lyrics, the dry hardcorish shouts of Scheuermann; Now modern sludge and a hint of blackened hardcore softly informs the less than sentimental post-black metal jog that backs Schoengrund‘s rasps. As these performances clench together into one toothy mass what is foremost remarkable about this latest release is the inherently muscular ease with which each song ripples and growls out intensely tangential pieces.
It had been some time since the major appeal of a black metal related album rested so heavily upon the ‘flow’ of guitar work within, it oozes with a satisfying performative streak that never goes too far. ‘Fear Rides a Shadow’ feels light years beyond where Feral Light were in 2017 with the mild-mannered ‘Void/Sanctify’, at least in terms of meaningful musical statement, transitional flourish and the projects greatest strength in generally wandering spiritus. A dam breaks as “Spirit Inanimate” scowls its slow-motion Kvelertak-esque black metallic dynamic and as the three minute mark sees transition towards stomping Slayer-esque insistence the album builds towards a series of incredibly evocative rhythm guitar tirades. The duo of “Psychic Dirt” and “Carbonic Dust” certainly come with already familiar Feral Light structure where each grinds out a Primordial-esque rhythm that is gently dismantled towards a peak intensity as the song completes. With “Psychic Dirt” the point of introspection comes in its mid-point after a rousing riff jolts the song into its second half; “Carbonic Dust” approaches Agalloch‘s earlier melodic zeal providing what I’d consider the standout spire of the album. The dynamic that Feral Light carefully balance allows for a wealth of dramatic pace changes as they blend a lifetimes worth of sub-genre attaché into one violent form.
‘Fear Rides a Shadow’ becomes a blur as it sits on repeat, an intimate storm of mental stress expressed through defiant and reasonably imaginative guitar work. It is no doubt more valuable as a whole experience, though, as I find most of the best black metal records are. My sole gripe with the experience isn’t minuscule and comes from a perceived lack of distinction between movements; As one big self-battling search for meaning it is a fantastic induction into the style of Feral Light though I’m not sure how impressed a perusing fellow would be previewing just one song from this album. There is no particular ‘single’ here and the appeal of the album is white hot only when it is fully in motion. The subtle points of memorability in each track arrive within ‘eye of the storm’ moments that are perhaps the least interesting remnant of post-metal influence. I found the full listen felt bare, honest while still entertaining with performative highlights. Whatever emotional kinship this record fosters it is never ‘forced’ as you trudge beyond the initial mystère. I can highly recommend the album as I believe it will retain some solid value for the modern black metal fan but it may not be bold enough of a statement to stick in the ears of those guided by ‘hooks’.
Thriving within exile. 4.25/5.0
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