Bookended by the deepening undulations of sorrow within their ever-expansive narrative voice this debut full-length from the anonymous Finnish black metal duo of Celestial Grave begins and ends in the glowering depths of true northern depression. Soured but not without reason, a burning sensitivity is only thinly masked by raw production values and the grandiose romance that is choked out of this relatively new duo upon the scene. Theirs is a shared fascination with raw semi-melodic atmospheric black metal that is not necessarily uncommon within Finland today but of a very different variety of melodic sense that’d escape the expected with most turns taken. That isn’t to say that the world left in the wake of groups such as key underground phenom Blood Red Fog and Cosmic Church, aren’t likely prepared for what ‘Secular Flesh’ bulldozes us with, it is related but perhaps several degrees warmed as what comes from the Netherlands of late. On said debut Celestial Grave have at it with their spiritual revenge across four lengthy and ever-molting guitar passages that culminate in the final touch; A full eructation is witnessed beyond the ‘self’ where the longing streams of guitar-driven ruin ignite a new generation of insight slightly removed from more obvious points of inception. In turn, a third repetition on my part: These Finns have crafted a modern rhythmic net of peril and safety alike, a warmly blackened chasm to hide within that’d eventually encroach upon the very air you’d breathe within its flaps. Gorgeous as it is debilitating, and no less earnest, ‘Secular Flesh’ serves to pump vital blood back towards the brain, the heart, and the most useful extremities in preparation for a fulfilling bout of divined melody, cries of solitude, and bouts of riling insanity.
Bear with the daunting and crisped-dead flaps of entry and the mountainous atmosphere they cascade beyond for the meat and the middle of ‘Secular Flesh’ is an escape, an incantation, and powerful meditation. The title track serves as a steady mental freeing from the listless billowing horror of Celestial Grave‘s imagery and lyrics. towards an epic heavy metal pulse that strays thoughtfully towards a style somewhat related to early Urfaust and depressive lo-fi black metal complete with some worthy vocal insanity as the song (“Secular Flesh”) progresses. Before I’d quickly heard hints of what modern rock influenced acts like Nusquama, Remete, and even Nécropole, are doing with their broken atmospheric black metal style but the middle portion of ‘Secular Flesh’ focuses ever slightly on a style a bit closer to a band such as the occasionally transfixed and angular side of newer Chaos Moon. It was the uncommonly hard shove of the nigh Bölzer-meets-Caverne tirade at the forefront of “Gasping from Lips of Night” that finally untangled the web of it all and made the album a bit more worthy of repeat. What begins as a maudlin and oppressive atmospheric black metal album with dauntingly stretched melodic hooks does eventually lift its arms high enough to hammer down the thunder of a few particularly effective riffs. Of course from there “Calamitous Love” ends with the most inconsolable note of the somewhat brief but glorious detailed full listen, for better or worse.
Atmospheric black metal is most effective as a big picture experience and what I mean by that is that it must create a meaningful greater arc to remain in the mind. No matter how gorgeous or stylized the moment-to-moment actions of the band are there is no impact felt without a greater recognizable structure to said atmosphere and this is where so many of the more poe-faced atmoblack acts falter despite capturing mood and scene relevant sounds quite well. An inspired outlier, Celestial Grave‘s ability to craft a satisfying arc from relatively simple progressions spanning each of these 6-10 minute songs is admirable but to be sure the triumphant attitude of “Gasping from Lips of Night” is a major piece of the whole achieving acceptable variety. What began to trouble me within each bout of obsessive listening streak (four or five full rotations) was that I began to see the initially impressive closing track as a missed opportunity for a grand finale rather than a wholly dramatic and listless send-off. The building progressing and intensity of its first approximate four minutes is a subtle and gorgeously complex set of shifting pieces but, the finale of the song felt too generously padded with fanfare. A small gripe for an album that is satisfying even without closer examination thanks to its successful ‘bigger picture’ compositions.
Intense, grotesque, dreary, inspirational and sometimes terribly manic there isn’t necessarily a ruthless heart of evil emanating from ‘Secular Flesh’ so much as an appreciation for decay and the dissolute nature of all things. Celestial Grave place the listener in existential throes nonetheless and I think that ability to create a thread of repeatable and intricate and melodramatic extreme metal is somewhat rarefied, at least rare enough that I felt this debut from the band was above average and heavily repeatable. Moderately high recommendation thanks to an ever-flowing sense of movement, an engaged emotive guitar voice, and succinct but densely packed points of songwriting interest. If anything I’d like to see a follow-up that could merge the triumphant with the sour and begin to create more original dynamics between those two specialties. For preview I’d suggest the duo of “Lamentation” and “Gasping from Lips of Night” for a glimpse at the subtle duality of the full listen.
Indebted to silver gleaming strands. 4.0/5.0
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