The alchemical will to transform through sulphur, salt and mercury was long and quietly a quest for panacea beyond the limits of the corporeal. The ain soph made tangible and malleable was purported by natural philosophers (of varying credibility) down two paths: The philosopher’s stone, a feckless right hand path towards the summoning of gold and silver from plain elements. The azoth, a left hand path towards unification of the beginning and the end envisioned in ancient thought purported as a salve for the ills of the body; A Paracelsian facilitation of the spirits’ transmutation into the golden screaming light of the apeiron. This mystic bridge is no longer stable between the heart of the hermetic healer and the hand of the natural philosopher; The power of the chemist today is sanctioned most often by cruel means and perpetuated by a new sort of greed reliant on deception. The third path is righteous in the head of the muso today, who’d meditate upon the holistic vision of auld occult medicine, alchemy, and unlock a greater personal transformation in the process. Madrid, Spain based black metal project Mystagos whirls his second summoning as a sorcerer afflicted with the bold madness of mercurial exposure today with ‘Azoth’, a justification for misanthropic and oft psychedelic black metal experimentation of the highest order.
A scholarly alchemical occultist and multi-talented musician active in the Madrid black metal pools since at least 2000, Heolstor (Eald, ex-Uruk-Hai) began his Mystagos precursor Chains ov Beleth back in 2005 as an exploration of ritualistic black magic that’d briefly find residence in southern Norway for inspiration. The influence of death rock/post-punk was already evident on that first full-length (‘Katabasis’, 2009) and it’d been incorporated with ringing mid-paced avant-dissonance by the time ‘Christeos Chaos’ (2015) would suggest he was onto something. By changing his solo project’s name to Mystagos in 2016 it’d appear Heolstor had taken this as a real point of transformation, a chance to unlock a greater echelon of professional detail and emboldened creativity. Last year I’d discovered this project through BlackSeed Productions‘ remaster of ‘Ho Anthropos Tes Anomias’ (2017), a fantastic concept album that’d cross ‘orthodox’ black metal abruptness with a narrative following the efforts of a messiah of the black flame, the power within. How then does this give way to ‘Azoth’, an eclectic flooding of Mystagos swamp of enlightened hermetic isolation? The unleashing of this higher art came with the underappreciated ‘Pvrvsha’ EP from 2018 which was surely a righteous omen for the style of this second (er, fourth?) full-length.
Consider the past a lesson learned by ‘doing’ where Mystagos today is both teacher and student, a defiance of obviate influence by way of a self-made individual who’d pour down the liquefied capture of the ancient’s knowledge into the mouths of those eager for understanding beyond the rat-like currencies of modern man. ‘Azoth’ is the gnosis bestowed upon the cracked skull, the amorphous capability of the self-directed to divine meaning from chaos in hand. There is liberation and freedom, steps towards enlightenment, within the themes of Heolstor‘s latest craft once again but this time around the music itself represents the very ‘soul’ of the artist materialized without the limitation of orthodoxy. The snarling voice before me is its own skin-shredding vapor, a revelatory burning of the skeleton and the meat of the ‘self’ that leaves the automatic pulse of organ and sinew to slop into a puddle free of any vessel. A thickly black and sauntering veil of distorted guitars and empowered basslines offer direction to flow within, a ‘ride’ for the humors and hide to slough and stew within. I see the psychedelic abyss that Mystagos creates as a place to expand, grow and enrich.
“Adam Kadmon” introduces the experience with a bounding and exotic energy not unlike that of Totenmesse (or, Akrotheism), an abstraction of black metal that literally bends and sways under its own wind. This’d be a very slight portent as to what’d come next if you’re not familiar with Mystagos‘ output thus far, though, as “Solve” shatters all paradigm with a nigh monastic vocal trance that could be perceived as gothic rock influenced but the intent isn’t precociously cathartic or short-sighted. A denatured vision of Qliphoth and the Kabbalah‘s mystic vision arises a metaphor of cosmic doctrine, from the birth of perception to corruption unto death, from the mind of Heolstor who manages some admirable prosaic restraint on ‘Azoth’ despite the richness of the subject matter; Each song deeper twists black metal forms with a bending of light, a solvent, within the narrative that is itself a coagulation of silver-purified blood collected over the last two decades of the artists shaped vision. ‘Azoth’ should be seen as a new apex, an ultimate showing of what the average black metal fan is missing beneath the surface level acts in the sub-genre. The potency of the listening experience will only be revealed at the height of its intoxication.
In case you’d suspect “Solve” was a fluke, each track beyond does infuse some measure of psychotropic nuance or darkly ethereal chant but “Ritual” serves as an equally elaborate reprise of those clean and melodic vocals. These emanations were present on ‘Ho Anthropos Tes Anomias’ but not at all this boldly interwoven into the greater statement of the piece, at least when compared with ‘Azoth’. “Shamdon” is the tipping point, the eruption of the being from the vessel into astral projection, and its hypnotic psychedelic rock bassline accentuated by the directional noise rock’d guitar work beyond is itself a transcendent moment even if looking beyond black metal strictures. It is at this point in the tracklist that I became a devout, clasping my hands and closing my eyes in ‘prayer’ that I might induce this trance of my own will, facilitated by Mystagos‘ higher thought. The peak beyond is perhaps the most balanced point of conclusion, “The Weight of a Burial Shroud”, where I’d begin to see this as an avant-garde black metal album with a much more meaningful musical statement than recent psychedelic black metal obscuration from much ‘bigger name’ acts. I didn’t at all intend a track-by-track examination of ‘Azoth’ but the songwriting demands that each piece be accounted for, and this should at least suggest that every piece counts and that this is a phenomenal black metal album.
While I don’t find psychedelic rock, post-punk, death rock, and gothic rock influences scarce in certain sects of black metal those elements aren’t often integrated into black metal itself. More often than not rock songs are veiled by a ‘black metal’ production sound and/or aesthetics rather than incorporated into a strong black metal performance, in this sense Mystagos have pulled in various influences to create a unique atmosphere that edges far outside of black metal but never into the typical and bland tropes of post-metal and post-rock influenced atmospheric black metal. The only other band I’ve heard that comes close to this level of integrated influences is perhaps Swedes Jordablod, though they’d taken on none of the same vocal risks/experimentation. Cleanly presented as a mangling of norms ‘Azoth’ is yet draped in the crust of occult black metal and without this harrowing edge and deft skill in creation of appropriate guitar riffs the whole affair would be either moot or amateurish. It all clicks together beautifully for my own taste in otherworldly, exaggerative black metal variations and I can safely count this Mystagos among my favorites of the year thus far. Very high recommendation. For preview purposes I’d suggest the early Borknagar-esque “Ritual” and the dreary psychedelic mass that is “Solve” to start, but the uninterrupted full listen is the only true path beyond.
Let the hall of mirrors collapse. 4.5/5.0
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