Punks don’t just happen upon enlightenment, right? The long-standing tradition of the reactionary flinging their body, and ‘self’, into the fire of psychedelics when seeking relief from any congealed societal ache is yet upheld by virtue of the unchanging brutality of existential dread. Far beyond the greenest corner-of-the-eye shade an irascible venture into psilocybin could provide, the isolation and disconnection provided by these substances manifests most wildly in complete darkness; The biggest picture relatable to the species, poisoned and projecting into invisible worlds, comes when the astral-viewer reaches the frozen void of space where the war between light and darkness is proven hopeful fable and an antiquated notion of men. Without this great dilation of all senses the defiant will forever be the shortsighted warrior of the light, the underdog reactionary; A furiously shitting ostrich eating with his head tucked warmly in his own pile. Where does this ‘enlightenment’ come, then? Do we mourn the grey area, as the light goes to die? By law, it is the only truly proven constant. Do we grasp and hug this old concept of ‘nothingness’, bite down on the strap, and cease all meaning? Cease to see the wars of everyday life as anything but the absurd, fractally-sprouting nonsensical downward spiral it is, you fool, and bear down on the darkness. The only question left, in my mind at least, is what to do with the mind while the body is burnt to a crisp amidst the impending suffocation-by-fire of all mammals on Earth? The cause of all suffering is greed. Somewhere in the midst of this 30-minute psychedelic post-blackened post-punk record from Ghent, Belgium wunderkind Witch Trail hashes at least some of the best answers out, first through brain-bursting genre defiance and then by way of its equally shot-gunned concept.
There is an end to suffering. The pains of growth end physically here, where a grand metamorphosis is complete by way of Witch Trail successfully crossing the pale from morbid thrashing metalpunk maniacs (‘The Witch’s Trail‘, 2013) to a post-black metal act toying with post-punk and noise rock ideas (‘Thole‘, 2016). Their sound at that point was akin to modern atmospheric black metal groups from the Netherlands such as Iskandr, Wiegedood or Fluisteraars but their style was relevant to the atmospheric lilt of ‘Sweven’-era Morbus Chron and thereabouts (see: “Residue”) thanks to persistent psychedelic wanderlust that’d build toward pointed and intense post-rock and/or post-punk songwriting. There are no comparisons to be made with ‘The Sun Has Left the Hill’ and its tenfold expansion beyond that breakthrough– It is a one-of-a-kind headpiece crowning Witch Trail alone, beyond any poe-faced post-black metal creatives who’d never thought to be this bold with their sound design. They’re still a punk band, though, and it warrants pointing out that this gaunt Ghent-based trio are healthily kicking out a mutated modern noise/post/indie-rock level of songwriting throughout their second album and all of the riffs are designed to hit the ground running; A jaggedly directional spontaneity only amplified by a distinctly psychedelic glass-shattering guitar sound that doggedly characterizes the shifting mood of ‘The Sun Has Left the Hill’. Despite the massive doubling down on ‘hipster’ black metal aesthetics, Witch Trail avoids even a whiff of this last decade’s obsession with the crescendo-thickened post-metal style currently infesting every weary corner of extreme metal thanks to an avoidance of typical black metal rhythm; It will inevitably be labeled as ‘black n’ roll’ by many because of this.
It bears mentioning that Belgium and the Netherlands’ rise as scenic pillars of experimental post-black metal these last five or so years came in tandem with (or, a step behind) an ante-upping flood of raw post-punk/noise rock acts receiving wider spread popularity. We’ve heard this in bands like Solar Temple but Witch Trail have crossed the line boldly in writing what is essentially a viable noise-ridden art rock album that provides a hand-blown glass windowed look at post-black metal. No, it doesn’t sound like amateur oddities like Blægger and Lustrous but, it makes great sense that this record was written nearby. Hell, if you stripped away the fiberglass-coughing guitar tone I’d almost expect ‘The Sun Has Left the Hill’ to sound like early PiL more than anything else, well, first issue at least. None of this sub-genre escalator points clearly enough to the thematic suggestion of ’embracing the dark’, which I’d personally interpreted as a celebration of the endtimes for habitable climes for men as a positive change for the planet. I’m sure that is pure projection, though I feel warranted in pushing for some measure of wry nihilistic-with-a-twist tonality.
The sludgy, Tombs-esque discordant bent of ‘Thole’ has been skinned of its doom while the bloody and throbbing machinery beneath Witch Trail‘s surface shrieks out dream-like worlds with a melodic voice that become cagey in its flitting between confrontational, cinematic, ethereal, and some purely cacophonous moments (such the riff change on “Afloat”); ‘The Sun Has Left the Hill’ is a spectacle because of its unique sound and the sheer buoyancy of its songwriting, jangling its psychedelic crispness with a set of interconnected earworms that are probably more ‘niche’ and difficult a paradigm shift for the average black metal fan than I’d like to admit. There is enough of a crossover between post-punk, noise rock, and modern post-black metal fandom that none of the experience will be alienating. Opener “Sinking” is an obvious entry point as its ‘Telecaster rock’ clangor and sweeping rhythms but the garage psych surfing blackened intro and ‘Sweven’-esque sluice of “Stupor” is the first strong point of communication from the band, that their effects-laiden guitar sound is actually perfectly tailored for this sub-genre hydra and they’ve brought only works that show a masterful weave of stylistic insight and mind-breaking sound. The flood gates open to the bliss of “Lucid” and the second great peak, “Silent Running”. I was sold by the end of “Sinking” but I was in love as the build-and-release of “Silent Running” stamped me out of bounds.
If it is merely the illusion of depth I am hearing across the half-hour expanse that Witch Trail offer then the immersion sells it; If there is yet depth to glean from this bold step beyond the norm then I will be needling over it for months to come. For all of my meticulous and driveling blather, the main point here is that ‘The Sun Has Left the Hill’ is resonant, an infectious and fluid ‘thing’ that sounds like nothing else. Even with several thousand releases to yet name and account for here at the end of the year I am enamored with this brilliant new Witch Trail album. Very high recommendation. For preview purposes I’d suggest putting in the half hour for the full listen, if you’re unsure about this frightening realm of modern ‘hipster’ black metal I’d say “Stupor” is a fine place to start.
Where I am going? 4.5/5.0
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