TRANSILVANIA – Of Sleep and Death (2021)REVIEW

Te mănâncă sfinţii — No greater terror rips through the mind than kin’s haunted birth on the first of the year. Throw the stone into the mouth of the strigoi today and curse them away momentarily if you will, our shadows will nonetheless torment us for another six months. Search out the corpse that’d stalk us and exhume it from sleep just past St. Ignatius’ day. You will know it by smell and a familiar pale visage, a wrinkled face mid-gnash when it visits with murderous intent each night. Pour the rendered lard of a sacrificial hog upon it and set the corpse face down so that it may be willed towards the afterlife. These dead arisen are described by men of letters as fellows who’d lived sinfully and died by a curse (or their own hand) yet by the too pious standards of the late nineteenth century described in Datinile Poporului român la înmormântări we would surely all be born, or die in the form of these malevolent demons. Today we are born blindly staring into the mouth of the underworld by will of Death’s generational queue, nagged by a feeling in our bones what blackest horror and depression radiate throughout life before dissolution. Austrian black metal quartet Transilvania have sight for these emanations, a mind for impermanence and the will to worship death not as master or magick but an glorious and necessary inevitability. Their second album ‘Of Sleep and Death‘ is the opus to reveal this sight, a harmonization with the radiation of the underworld that cues the continuum of ancient black metal, romanticizing auld morbid folklore to the tuneful furioso the sub-genre demands.

A black/heavy metal death trip bearing the stature of a parable-filled compendium of monsters and what else’d bring death to the night, each piece presaged by a hair-raising twinge that guides shaking hands into melodic descent, it should be stated up front that ‘Of Sleep and Death’ is a remarkable enactment of gut feeling black metal unto refined “evil” heavy metal theater. Though they deal in the spiritus of dissonant thrashing heavy metal of post-Venom black metal throughout Europe in the early 80’s as a point of impetus what is most remarkable about Transilvania‘s second album isn’t any sort of “retro” feeling, but rather the somewhat adjacent sense of black metal’s holistic influence into some sort of modern embodiment of first wave heavy rock bones; They’d collect the most successfully melodic kin spawned in various sparks throughout the sub-genre’s history. Their taste likely spans everything from Kat and Tormentor to Dissection and whatever modern peer might make sense, such as Malokarpatan or Vigilance. These shared elements of black, death, thrash, and heavy metal ultimately carry us to a sophisticated melodic black metal record that could rightfully be graced with any number of extra qualifiers but the result is essentially a Mercyful Fate sized experience approached from every angle of unbastardized black metal mindset.

This is perhaps due to an early enthusiasm for all things extreme metal in their formative years under the name, uh, Epidermis and later Old Skull. Black/death-thrashing of the devolved Svensk sort soon gave way to black/thrashing and four years later Transilvania had found their iron-skeletal voice and purpose — All work pays off today (especially if this is your first exposure) but truth be told they’d figured themselves out by 2018 when releasing their debut full-length, ‘The Night of Nights‘, in small runs between three labels. It was a memorable and steeling record, think of a “black metal Diabolic Night” and you’ve understood the basal appeal of their sound. Unfortunately they’d never get to fully tour the record due to their second guitarist’s exit and if I can paraphrase the artist: “our music is virtually impossible to perform without two guitars.” This is perhaps an unintended vouch for why I’ve enjoyed ‘Of Sleep and Death’, it really is a two guitar minimum kind of record (and band) and you’ll understand why once you’ve sat with its involved and neatly harmonized sentience. Beyond that unique hardship I suppose any band reaching for their tenth (active) year has undoubtedly fought for it and if we must gauge the warrior spirit with this sentiment, ‘Of Sleep and Death’ is double-wielding all weaponry and proc’ing all skills as they whirl this vortex’d sight upon us.

“Opus Morbii” wills into existence this space where ‘The Somberlain’ meets eye-to-eye with ‘Fatal Portrait’, edging away from the primal black/heavy metal that serves as greatest influence whilst keeping the hammer of extreme metal clenched and swinging. This suggestion of vampires and medieval mythological glory may have you hearing a bit of Tribulation‘s ‘The Children of the Night’ in spirit but this holds less and less water with every passing second, especially as “Hekateion” enters the fray and pushes out a few blazing early second wave black/death metal tirades of riff and echoing hurlant. Each piece is written with adjacent vignette or non-serialized story in mind, an sinister atmosphere and attitude conveyed via speed metal jog-thrashing and slow-blasting pace glued together by gorgeously long-winded and heavily melodic riffs. Too often I’ll speak to the architecture of a riff, bemused by a strong piece in an uneven whole but Transilvania‘s knack for long-bowed arcs of black (and death-kissed) riffs isn’t piecemeal exercise but fairly advanced arrangement-for-effect. In simpler terms, each song arrives arranged for effect and a keen sense of progression via an old soul’d guitar performance in mind. This’ll sink in fully when the title track highlights Side A with its circular jig-like motions that pulse by virtue of the two guitarist’s unique synchronicity of action, quite a normal set of twists for a solid black metal act but delivered with the oak coffin shaking creak (and catchy breaks) that fans of labelmates Malokarpatan will appreciate. Each step forward radiates a more ornate, potent beam of death’s energetic haze as the “peak” of this album is sustained from piece to piece. I’d barely gotten to the halfway point in description of ‘Of Sleep and Death’ and yet I sit with a ten item list of favorite moments from the first three songs alone in hand.

Side B is equally melodic, I’d generally found the deepest cuts on the record ended up my favorite songs after several listens; “Vault of Evening” is a particular standout, an early second wave hailstorm to start building its tension via repetition before kicking into a rotten speed-metallic choir of blasting floaty peak, the first of about three or four within the piece. You’ll understand why I’d suggested a series of lofty and theatrical heavy metal acts in reference to the spirit of Transilvania here as this song revives its atmospheric peak a few more times. “Mortpetten” is my personal favorite piece on the album, its riff just beyond the ~2:00 minute mark sprawls and twists into the next several before the ~3:15 minute mark, there I’d found myself frantically looking for a “buy” button to click on. The craft of this song and its multitude of neatly folkish, black/death snarling traditional heavy metal attuned movements echoes the bigger picture of the release, or the magnitude at which its fine details are visible and notably effective within the listening experience. ‘Of Sleep and Death’ is a complex set of acts that’d instantly appealed to me from the first listen. Yet it’d still feel odd to suggest ‘Of Sleep and Death’ is “catchy” rather than simply memorable for movements that inspire repeat listening, a matter of dullard semantics I suppose. Without this inherently musical allure laced into each piece I’d have been much less prone to ingest all ~50 minutes of this album without a break for hours on end and as often, it simply insisted to be replayed for the sake of these frequent pockets of classic black/heavy metal histrionics.

I’ve little actual criticism here, ‘Of Sleep and Death’ is a stunning composure of forms that rarely exhausts its greater fortitude. The artwork, the lyrics, and the music itself all feel deeply aligned for peak resonance and this includes the production of the album which rings rotten and hollow but able to be warmed when melody would call their corpses to dance. For a band that slides between so many tonal milestones within each piece I’d felt the vocals were occasionally a bit underwhelming for the sake of the guitar’s melodic focus, it is a “rock guitar” black metal album in some considerable sense. This is to say that the balance of ideas and presence is already ideally set yet the vocals could express slightly more unhinged range when characterizing songs. Not that black metal need be about recreating werewolf rituals and strigoi severing hearts from living victims but if these guys ever went way off the deep end it’d still probably rule. Otherwise I’d wanted the bass to feature more prominently in the compositions, as I’d really enjoyed certain parts of songs like “Hekateion” where it’d feature. Regardless, I’d trust Transylvania‘s taste enacting further releases and found myself a fan as I went back and listened to their first EP and debut album. A grimacing and claw-fingered summon of underworldly resonance and a fine experience to perish within. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Of Sleep and Death
LABEL(S):Invictus Productions
RELEASE DATE:January 1st, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal,
Black/Heavy Metal

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