Whistling softly as crystalline bodies flitting with the exuberance of a newly freed dawn they wisp and melt their intermingling glow upon the aching neck of the morning. With the ever-untainted resilient enthusiasm of early-risen songbirds the whirr and wail of these celestial beings offers a glistening blanket of joy upon a tired and pained existence beneath. The weight of the dark is buried further by the soft hands of these spirits of awakening and renewal who begin to represent death evermore as each morning rises to remind those keeping track that time is soon up. The darker blurring grain of the eye’s film as the light rises unto dawn houses, secures the forward and never backwards passage of time. What great value is an eternity of rediscovering the diurnal crest of a world doomed when the daylight allows the living ‘free’ passage into whatever exploration of the Earth and the mind’s nuance can be managed? Here the sweetly soaring ease of Stockholm, Sweden based sextet Netherbird sings to me with ‘Into the Vast Uncharted’ their fifth paean to the knell of the world and the beauty in the coming of eternal darkness.
The head pulls back as the heart surges something deeper in response to this uncanny ability to speak to core emotional being of a man through a righteously melodic guitar lead. The sensation is that of sorrowful release yet, it resembles gratification all the same; This grand moment of universal communication likewise manifests as nostalgia alongside a pure admiration for rhythmic textural darkness that’d fill the humours of the corporeal husk which cannot contain them without a gasp or a shudder in response. ‘Into the Vast Uncharted’ is that aching hug from beyond, the death-celebrant bout of beauteous yearning where the classically-minded melodic black metal foundations of the early-to-mid 1990’s kiss the pouting cheeks of ‘dark metal’ into a deeper union of spiritually viable musical experience. Lovely yet never sickeningly sweet is perhaps one of the most challenging balances to achieve and with a fifteen year span of experiential growth it is clear that Netherbird have reached a glorious poignancy since their reformation in 2016. It would be remarkable ‘enough’ to be gripped through the very chest by such a work once or twice on a full-length release but it’d be fair to say ‘Into the Vast Uncharted’ is a barrage of the spirit that never once dips in the quality of its personal resonance.
So, where have they risen from into the periphery? This Swedish band so many have somehow overlooked for over a decade have seemingly traversed every imaginable angle of melodic extreme metal over the last fifteen years and the run of releases from 2005 ’til 2013 learned countless lessons from a large array of Swedish musicians from Eucharist, At the Gates, Ondskapt, Nordjevel, and Mephorash among others. ‘The Ghost Collector’ (2008) was a sort of analog to late 90’s/early 00’s Old Man’s Child and the next full-length would iterate upon this with some greater vision but it would be ‘The Ferocious Tides’ (2013) where some manner of breaking point was reached. A two year hiatus would serve as some great re-positioning of Netherbird that would take a step back from the bombast and ruthless brutality of prior early 2000’s symphonic/melodic black metal styled excesses and find the way forward through a warming of atmospheric values that felt appropriately ‘modern’ but still in service to the heart of melodic black metal. Consider that prior album an achievement in its own right but a comparative proving ground next to the ‘complete’ and satiating grace of ‘Into the Vast Uncharted’.
Some of the major structural change that could be needled out of this new sublime diabolus in comparison with the prior record comes with the addition of ex-Amon Amarth and original A Canorous Quintet guitarist/drummer Fredrik Andersson who provides a performance on par with that of todays Omnium Gatherum (alternately Dark Tranquillity‘s pre-2000 era) or similar ilk. The tendency will be to look to later Dissection or even Dawn for some of these expressions of dark metal grandeur because that is the implied goal but the percussion here does not communicate more than a hint of early-to-mid 90’s brutality and the focus is most clearly upon lead guitar driven melody. This opens the door to not only melodic black metal fans but those who’re likewise intensely dedicated to that in tandem crossover between melodic death metal. No, ‘Into the Vast Uncharted’ doesn’t necessarily sound like a Gates of Ishtar record but as a modern interpretation of melodic black/death metal it is both authentic and accessibly achieved. The sense that an emotional connection with the performance and composition is viable in this case, sealing the deal for my own tastes and lending deeper value to repeated listening.
There are few extreme metal bands that truly take full advantage of the presence of three guitarists on stage but in the case of Netherbird it now appears more mandatory than ever to have both lead guitarists running the show. A song like early single “Lunar Pendulum” thrives within its layers of harmonizing leads and subtle hooks that add to the build-and-crumble lilt of the piece. No moment on ‘Into the Vast Uncharted’ persists without some sort of redeeming earworm in development and this might be the most appealing triumph of the full listen, that I’m not subjected to an album of performative textures but rather songs with purposeful movements guided by a hand that understands the necessity of musical statement within this particular niche of heavy music. The full listening experience is a success in my ears and I’d found myself listening 2-3 times in a row thanks to a roughly 37 minute length that is just long enough to feel substantive but not so long that it feels bloated by any redundancy. Highly recommended. For preview purposes I’d suggest opener “Saturnine Ancestry” for an accumulative statement and then “The Obsidian White” for my personal favorite track for its ruthless melodic black metal fanfare of riffs placed at the perfect point in the tracklist.
Ebb downward, flow forward. 4.25/5.0
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