INTO OBLIVION – Winds of Serpentine Ascension (2020)REVIEW

The scarab’s symbolism and “das schwerste Gewicht” of eternal recurrence. — Men who have lived within any certain cycle of our ceaselessly repetitive human history are too often made mediocre by their own avoidance of historical study; Those who seek the origin, the second advance, the series of inevitable rise and fall events are they who conquer or relent most notably. That said, there are great works resultant of the cycle itself which are certainly tied to time and place but great works all the same. Where the artist stands tallest is marked where they define their point of opposition, their place in the wave (conquer, rise, and ruin) and which echoes of (seemingly) eternal human existence they can raise in extancy. Polybius saw this continuum and attempted to bring divisions, checks and balances that would later influence constitutional government. Zosimus documented the rise of the Roman Empire and in doing so fairly depicting Christian emperors as sowers of division, that which would lead to the fall of the empire. Recurrence is not a fault of existence nor a plain ignorance of man but an ancient truth of flawed civilization of which we’ve little more than art and distended libraries to save us from devolutionary monarchic enslavement. Art itself has microcosmic events in its rapid generational expression all the same and when we’ve realized this in view of modern blackened death metal music, very few are earnestly rising to the auld standards of a mere three decades prior. Toronto, Ontario-based ‘epic’ black/death metal quintet Into Oblivion are an admixture of practicum and instinct in this sense, wielding thrilling chest-clutching throngs of polyphony, counterpoint and ye olde melodic black/death metal riff of specific origin, arriving at this their highest peak ‘Winds of Serpentine Ascension’ after thirteen years of steady refinement.

Without mincing too finely over the major impact of ‘Red in the Sky is Ours’ we must begin by planting our fists deep into the well of fluid contrapuntal exaggeration on offer within Eucharist‘s ‘A Velvet Creation’ circa 1993. These extended and distinctly uninterrupted (compared to peers Grotesque, Unanimated, Sacramentum) floods and eddies of melodious tremolo form the basis of technique and enable broader long-form statements that Into Oblivion bring most righteously on ‘Winds of Serpentine Ascension’. We can back-pedal to Adramelech‘s ‘Spring of Recovery’ EP for the sake of earlier works, such as the self-titled debut (‘Into Oblivion‘, 2009) where it is most clear some measure of early Finnish death had influence over the one guitarist (Roman Lechman) version of the band. It won’t do any good for the point here to move too quickly through time but the second At the Gates album would refine this technique twofold, coping away even more edges and exploiting avant-garde manipulation of melodic ideas, the exact opposite spirit of, say, In Flames. Stuttering, disjointed and do-it-yourself in the best tradition the first couple of Into Oblivion albums surely weren’t as refined as ‘Finis Malorum’ or adept as ‘Psychostasia’ but with their second album (‘Creation of a Monolith‘, 2010) the original quartet arrived upon their first breakthrough in terms of crossing two slightly clashing streams of riff into bouts of harmony, surely due to the addition of a second guitarist (Kaveh Afshar). Instantly the continuum revs up and two key components (as I see it) arise in mind, the influence of Judas Iscariot (see: ‘Thy Dying Light’) and Averse Sefira where I’d specifically point folks in the direction of ‘Blasphomet Sin Abset’ to start. Before we reach a five year interim from the band, during which they’d form admirable doom metal act Cromlech, a crucial second breakthrough comes via a split with Disinterred (‘Oblivion’s Oceans‘, 2013) where we first see the shambles of black and death metal cruciform adding up.

Of course I’ve no idea what the actual influences of the band were during their formative years but when they returned those days were long past and a vastly different, intensely accomplished version of Into Oblivion arose via their third album (‘Paragon‘, 2018) and true realization of what ‘Creation of a Monolith’ had attempted. At the time I’d missed the album, it was an independent release and I for sure wasn’t scouring Bandcamp nearly as much at the time. For this album the songs were all over ten minutes it length, featured multiple stylistic notions that most often amounted to a crossing of those classic Swedish melodic black/death dual guitar techniques, the brash crawl of Finnish death metal via the mid 90’s and the raw foresight of the best United States black metal. The sixteen minute opener for that album “Gates of Destiny” illustrates each point made thus far in full bloom. Is the album a masterpiece in hindsight, in the spheres of independent extreme metal artistry hard fought over a decade? Absolutely a triumph of raw extreme metal advance. The missing piece of the puzzle, which I’d admittedly not thought of on my own, is some potential influence from Sacramentary Abolishment and/or Absu — The former suggested via their constant sporting of band shirts and the latter mentioned on a podcast. I see the most direct feeling conveyed in simpatico via the esoteric and brilliantly insane ‘The Distracting Stone’, you can venture into Axis of Advance on your own from there. Point being whatever influences were there Into Oblivion had crafted something bigger, longer and well… you really shouldn’t describe this band with anything less than “epic” in mind else you’d do them a disservice at this point. ‘Winds of Serpentine Ascension’ is life beyond that specific portal to greatness, a transcendental rift the band could never look back upon due to the stirring beauty of the promised land ahead.

Sculpted with the finest blade and eye to date but, not entirely finished the exaggerated qualities of this three song ~35 minute EP represent the genetic expression of each trait discussed prior; Opener “Where the Winds Wail & Gnaw” has the lilt of ‘With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness’ solidly in hand, roars of death’s head certainly follow but this song is concerned with beautiful downfall and the crumbling, conquer envisioned. If you’d clicked over to Cromlech you’ll note primary composer Lechman has a strong understanding of Solstice-sized three act piece and certainly aims his streams of riff towards the patient, apt listener first and foremost. “The Shattering Ascent” opens with a series of movements that severely cripple a lot of the pseudo-Finnish death metal out of the United States this last decade where the ‘North From Here’-era Sentenced guitar runs intensify via bends and staggering flourish giving way to refrains that resemble another of my favorite bands, Dawn, and their circa ’94 percussive blackened riffs which are angularly set in intervals that make great sense in the context of the aforementioned runs. I’d rarely engage too seriously with a 7-8 minute instrumental black/death metal song but, yeah this might be the best moment on the album if all of it wasn’t performed at such a consistently high level.

The final piece is quite long at just over 19 minutes but this is entirely normal for this band and I’d suggest they actually thrive upon their most glorious heights within these longer compositions. That said the first seven minutes of “Eagle of the Serpent Sun” is a slow build, echoing a ‘Hammerheart’ amount of patience until thunder and lightning send us into the steady grind of a warrior’s paced epic. It isn’t exactly ‘Gods of War – At War’ in terms of impact and production value just yet but these extended compositions and lengthy melodic statements are uniquely Into Oblivion at this point. There it is, the bigger picture if you’ve been apt enough to seek it is in view as we see this balance of learned technique with dreaming big structural feats that are largely innately crafted. In this sense this quintet realize this EP in the image of greats with enough applied historical knowledge to craft something further along the continuum and perhaps equally effective as the old ways when pressed upon the right ear.

I felt I was surely the right ear within seconds of the first song’s unleash and the old blood only kept spilling from there. As to the lasting value of the EP, it certainly encapsulates and hones right in towards their most effective traits. I would say the first two songs shouldn’t be your introduction to the rest of Into Oblivion‘s discography, they are vivid and potent in shorter form whereas a quick trip to the shores of ‘Paragon’ will prove challenging of expectations; If keeping in mind that “Eagle of the Serpent Sun” is most exemplar of forms when looking to the past all will fall into place nicely with context. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (88/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Winds of Serpentine Ascension
LABEL(S):Hessian Firm
RELEASE DATE:September 29th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
BigCartel [Hessian Firm]
GENRE(S):Epic Black/Death Metal

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