Balmog – Pillars of Salt (2020)REVIEW

As the second of Helios‘ daughters awakens to thaw in the wake of these deranged seasons so quivers the sickle of Eiar, a distended crown of flowers spattered with the blood of lamb atop her head. The soot of burnt budding hedge and the dripping meat of the ram’s head, lifted and presented to drying sunlight, quenches the handmaidens decaying heart. Δαιμονες Χρυσεοι watch over salted and scorched soil, feeble men roll in mud and shit to cool from the burning rays that crack and crevasse their skin just as their fields. Today we look back upon sin with great revelry! Two thousand years has been far long enough to prove that no ‘God’ will ever come to Earth, to realize this overdue freedom from ignorance just as the death of all life looms elbow deep in our sanctimonious climes is due self-punishment for a species that should never have been granted any such power to rule over one another. Monstrous and violently deluded Christians today see the story of Lot’s wife, a woman who’d seemingly never deserved a name from the mouth of ‘God’, as a parable for not dwelling upon sin as a lesson learned — It allows their kind to see and feel no consequence for actions their false deity supposedly commands. How freeing it must be for swine to be programmed unto sociopathy, for they see sin as a virus that needed to be killed off lest it be spread beyond Sodom and Gomorrah — Focus upon your own free will and be clipped of the curse of ‘God’, dwell upon and pine for the luxuriate sins of the past and turn to ‘Pillars of Salt‘, dry the world of the blood Christian opportunism so clearly thirsts for. Accept no master, accept no murderous fable of ‘God’ and be bent to serve none. Blasphemy, alchemy, Satanic faith and the void of all life drive unholy Spanish black/death metal trio Balmog away from the curse of belief towards the enlightened nihil where nearly two decades have been spent conjuring their part in the collapse of sanctity. Their latest EP, ‘Pillars of Salt’, is an abominable credo and a gestured paean to defiance as much as it is a thrilling ride through the psychedelic future storm of extreme metal at freshly peered apex.

Three eccentric musicians from Soutomaior, Spain would form Balmog as a secure entity circa ~2004, there a triangulation of ambitious obscuritas and violent attack would soon bear a demo (‘The Discipline of Poetry & Pest‘, 2006) held in the throes of atmospheric and orthodox black metal variant. It’d be another six years of demos, splits and EPs before their debut full-length (‘Testimony of the Abominable‘, 2012) would find the band finally realizing their earliest vision which held a clear love for the old and new occult masters of Sweden and Greece, and though they hadn’t much reach at the time it remains a remarkable first album full of worthy textural riffing and devout thematic focus. A reasonable shift came with their second album (‘Svmma Fide‘, 2015) where it’d seem some influence from Icelandic black metal was inevitable as the world of true black metal couldn’t avoid the reach of Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord much less the talented Icelanders abound. This summary should suggest that I don’t feel that second album did enough to stand out in 2015, correct, though it was a point of distinction as Balmog found key rhythm and technique there that still informs their work today.

It would be ‘Vacvvm‘ (2018) that’d finally see the trio with the means to realize bigger goals, this meant bigger ideas and more expressive performances while continuing their riff-driven approach to modern black metal exposition. No doubt a great deal of that release’s dramatic flair still informs ‘Pillars of Salt’, it is a single 18 minute song, but they’ve done a lot of work to incorporate influences between all three members making for an experience tinged with the suggestion of dark prog rock, post-punk, traditional heavy metal and their own especially dark vision of black/death metal with sparks of dissonance and atmospheric depths. Sublime and forward-thinking black metal acts such as Svartidauði, Acherontas and Mystagos come to mind as ‘Pillars of Salt’ shudders in from ear to ear with some impressive fidelity applied to psychedelic rock madness, occult black metal austerity, and guitar techniques that offer a doubly impressive expansion upon the ideas of ‘Vacvvm’ just a couple of years prior. “Pillars of Salt” is remarkably well arranged, playing more as a suite of 2-3 pieces glued together by atmospheric guitar work that should reasonably bring to mind the transitional moments of ‘Revelations of the Red Sword’, which I do not posit as a point of unoriginal technique but rather an impressive use of guitar voicing to thread a thematic voice between the internal movements of “Pillars of Salt”.

Whether or not you are familiar with Balmog it will more than likely be the watery psychedelia and fluid modern black/death metal sound within that sparks your interest to start but for my own faculties it was the absolute wilderness of the vocals that blew my mind with unvarying returns as I approached each listen. A spoken baritone, not unlike some of Mystagos recent work, opens the piece bracing under the light of Helios (or whichever burning spirit you’d name) and soon turns to an echoing growl of fantastic layers, menacing its captivating narrative drenched in its own reverberations. Then comes the great halt, a single guitar rings through the major progression of the song as a cold wind finds the sun-baked concrete spreading its mirage far and wide across desolation. The distorted organ that chime in as the song builds back into ruin add so much to this moment that it feels more like a rebirth than a mere second wind unto the stellarly second half of the song. Rock solos, a few brutal swings, and a reprise of the introduction’s death-rocked spoken narrative builds once again to what I’d consider the grand peak of the song around 14:35 minutes in, here the psychedelia returns somber and billowing, there a great sadness creeps across my skin in waves of chills and tingling anxiety before the transcendental final moments pull upwards. Blinded, dead, but freed.

Anyhow, it is one hell of a song and far more than I’d ever expected from a band that’d always moved with ambition but never really stepped too far outside of themselves. This experience is moving, illustrative, beautifully arranged, and haunting as it crisps over all life on Earth in one great murderous eulogy. Balmog have completely outdone themselves here with a great and inspiring work so, I’d without question grant a very high recommendation for ‘Pillars of Salt’. An essential listen for 2020 and certainly one of my very favorite releases from this month.

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Artist Balmog
Type EP
Released March 27, 2020
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Genre Black/Death Metal

Very high recommendation. 4.5/5.0

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