A primal ray of inspiration, fractally dispersed to impose greater darkness, best serves those who’ve lived in adaptive and necessarily untoward stasis. Bleak and shadowy forms serve as great cooling pools to slink between — Away from death and the brevity of hapless existential crises any above-average sentience’d naturally incur. With all manner of cursed dark mirror angled to invoke the moon’s light and reveal visions of dead lovers, relatives, and past lives those illuminating the mist shake with soulful readiness to pour their glut of grief into overfilled notions of relief in parinirvāṇa. To commune with the dead is to become dead, bound to whatever curses them into readiness and conjured audience. Restless diamonian grip upon the shoulders, impinging the arms to weakened resignation, sends the mind hissing and flinging about all manner of limb as the mystic charms and wiles of Minneapolis, Minnesota-based blackened post-metal duo Feral Light allow glorious catharsis and possession for the ailing spirit. Their third full-length album, ‘Life Vapor’, is not necessarily an ecclesiastical reminder that life is indeed severely brief but, that all states of matter, being and nous are transitory.
If you’d missed the chance to flail atop your balcony swooning over the muscular, catchy yet dismally black n’ roll’d post-metallic loosing of Feral Light‘s impressive second album (‘Fear Rides a Shadow‘, 2019) then you’d likely missed my fairly strong recommendation of it as I’d found their sharpened tongues and blended forms of blackened post-metal (with pangs of doom and black n’ roll) unique and memorably achieved. If you’d not missed it and have instead hotly anticipated hearing this third album I’ll get to the point quickly: ‘Life Vapor’ is on par with that previous record in every sense, twisting their directional lilt away from the black n’ roll space towards the emotional strides of post-metal whilst wafting in some downtrodden atmospheric black metal satiety. Although not a swing back to the first album (‘Void/Sanctify‘, 2017) stylistically speaking there is the sense that Andy Schoengrund (Coagulate, ex-Wolvhammer) and drummer Andrew Reesen have aimed for continuity within textural feeling, lucid movement, and arrangements that inspire heightened emotional resonance on this third album, allowing for a balance of recognizable style and remarkably freshened oeuvre.
Whereas ‘Fear Rides a Shadow’ often spun out into grand and notably burly riffs that’d provided some good reason to consider their style relevant within black n’ roll music today (see: Glorior Belli) the holistic voice of ‘Life Vapor’ includes that spiritus but also intends much greater diversity. Consider their sound kin to a band like Vanum (or even Wolves in the Throne Room) but through the body of a post-metal affected group such as Bast or the earlier, most distinct works of Tombs. The shared median between those two practices is perhaps a band such as Regarde Les Hommes Tomber and Downfall of Gaia yet remains a loose grouping of artists each with a very unique production sound, mind for arrangement, and voice. There are certainly plenty of bands combining black metal aesthetics to post-metal today yet in the case of Feral Light all achievement comes by way of well-developed distinctive traits wherein a major point of intrigue (for my own tastes) arrives with Schoengrund‘s expressive guitar work which is, again, more attuned to myriad forms of black metal technique than ever.
Enlisting a ‘rush in and riff’-bulging spectacle as opener “Blood in Sand” introduces the hard-swerving rhythm guitar thread that elevates this album from the start, the hissing beckon of throat-scraping vocal and insistent groove calls to the listener in despair and warning at once. Although the insistent shove of the first song begins to drone on it isn’t long before the hooks I’d pined for back when ‘Fear Rides a Shadow’ released last year start to arrive in healthy bursts, and with subtle charms; The first single and preview track from the record “Assuage” brings a soul-stirring (but subtle) lead guitar driven introduction that soon bears down upon its initial statement before transitioning between melodious black metal riff runs and despondent verses. The effect is non-traditional but highly readable for anyone attuned to black metal guitar techniques; Trading away the sludge n’ roll’d plow of past works for lucid dreaming and soulful lament provides a sense of bristling black metal defiance with an equal measure of eye-drooping nihilism. “Walking Tomb” opens with some righteous doom metal riffs, showered in blackened leads that land like a fistful of nails hucked at the face. This’d been the exact right way to round out Side A and for my own taste it is the major highlight of the records first half.
Enraptured by the mystic graces of shoegazing weightlessness and searching without hope, all manner of muscles are rendered helpless by freshly dug up anxietous dread. ‘Life Vapor’ surely pulled grief from me, inspired thoughts of those who’d passed away and whatever spiritual connection remains. Though this is likely not the intentional effect per se, there is something to be said for a record that manages to be immersive enough to incite a period of personal reflection. Over on Side B “Hex of Inverses” slowly blooms beyond its introductory Russian Circles-esque progression, diving into a gorgeous atmospheric black-gazing attack that finds the most sentimental peak of the record as the core hook of the intro circles back around; Alternation between blackened attack and jangling post-music oozing makes all the difference in highlighting the enhanced sense of flow (or, movement) applied to the guitar performances. This strikes some gold in the sense that these moments appear as extension of the artist, where the prosaic impact of the work doubles within the ache of the arrangements. Tired as post-metal songwriting can feel sometimes, in the hands of Schoengrund‘s very capable handle upon myriad influences those building blocks become purposely phrasal, verging on emotional and verbose pouring through the instrument. All the more reason to insist that this work has some connection with mourning, for the ‘self’ or some great defenestration of it.
Where I am shattered, finally broken into a limbless screaming puddle of chunks, comes with the ‘all the way there’ album closer, “In Summation”. The title is apt enough but, not a summary of events. It is final grand peak to touch upon where all that was built by “Hex of Inverses” releases into a jogging tilt, there the guitar riffs push forth with angered and final motion, a hollow-hearted moment of black metal menace that’d not ever lose its thundering central groove. The jogging punch of the main verse riff is a hammer-swinging heavy metal moment to start and speaks to Feral Light avoiding plain iteration in crafting an instrumental voice of their own, a characteristically earthen and potentially cathartic darkness. This’d been a huge song for connecting with the album as it’d reminded me not only of the previous album’s more black n’ roll feeling but the imposing branches grown since. The full listen is texturally satisfying, rhythmic and often unpredictable, bursting between a well-developed set of tongues these fellows so capably express. It might never be considered an exemplar ‘genre’ album for the sake of never sitting still or, rather liquefying several blackened music interests into one turbulent lazarus pool to dip into. ‘Life Vapor’ is an easy high recommendation to fans of modern yet divergent black metal forms and post-metal informed extreme metal who’d yearn for something outside of dry norms and dirtless renderings.
High recommendation. 4.25/5.0
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