THE RUINS OF BEVERAST – The Thule Grimoires (2021)REVIEW

A kind of mass soul loss defines the modern epoch. The world correspondingly robbed of soul has taken on a flat, disconnected, uninviting, depersonalised and literal appearance for most of us. By pressing all of the soul into the human being we have de-animated the world and simultaneously inflated the significance of the human person.” Andy Fisher, Radical Ecopyschology

Complacent, willfully mediocre men bear strongest ownership of this era of calloused Sol and cruelest storming Aquilo, piled and easily vexed clod who’d act with half the mind of domesticated wolves in preying upon each other as poisoned, spiteful beasts with no fealty to any tangible future or natural order. The bloodred robed, and serpent-roped dress of Tisiphone awaits its chance to be the splatter-veiled backdrop for her impending lightning whip towards damnation, hungering for the flurry of cannibalistic horrors sent to the underworld for their inert acceptance of doom. And perhaps this is for the best, to allow the human animal to play out its succession of filth and pool the muck of our parasitism upon nature, to achieve this viscous slime-ridden Hell before dissolving into poisonous apocalypse. Unwilling to collapse into this vision of melting flesh and the too quietly whimpering exodus of man within this narrative, revered far-Western German musician Alexander von Meilenwald would rather envision a war against humanity a more fitting end; A war waged by heroic spiritus and the forces of nature to oust the infection (we, the vermin mankind) and curb the rapid disharmony our death’s-head represents. In the process of this eschatological mythos’ woven a set of seven parables are writ as ‘The Thule Grimoires‘ and set to the song only The Ruins of Beverast can sing, their voice increasingly melodic as the narrative marks its many triumphant peaks. Yet more bricks fall that’d bridge men to the ‘Gods’ and yet more twisted minds are convinced of their importance in death.

There’ll be no reasonable method of summary description when it comes to conveying how The Ruins of Beverast has developed notability as an underground phenomenon that’d sit neatly in line with the actual modus of the music; His ever-rising popularity and reception follows a predictable path of relatively natural discovery, spiking in the late 2000’s when fidelity granted notable clarity to increasingly complex conceptual forms, yet the artist himself develops capsular works of cinematic vision, (largely) unconcerned with past works: Starting from conceptual prose and building these thunderous atmospheric works ’til the right medium is achieved. The major point being that while the artist’s development sees path of greater capability and notoriety as each record releases, no two records appear to be direct “fixes”, callbacks, or responses to previous works. Approaching each work as a fresh start has produced what eludes quite a lot of modern extreme metal acts, a certain palpable artistry beyond craftsmanship that is easily read and openly communicative neither struggling with the overt technique of heavy metal nor bothering with competitive “on trend” salability. It is as true today on this sixth full-length as it were on any prior work that the insular, unperturbed hand of the artist arrives on his own terms, if not a few months later than expected due to the logistics of mailing physical media throughout our presently plagued Earth. Oddly enough, ‘The Thule Grimoires’ is not what you’d expect in this sense of contained narrative. Yes, a long and involved orchestration of heavily atmospheric extreme doom metal forms that are yet readable as black metal-related most of the time remains the key focus but it seems he has taken a fresh angle to the previous album’s core statement, at least at face value. All of this comes with bespoke atmosphere and the artist’s own focus upon developing new performative skill; In this case more extensive use of ‘clean’ vocals and gothic rock/post-punk vocal melodies speak to von Meilenwald‘s taste in classic melodic death/doom forms. This serves an intense amount of emotional register to the artists already considerable oeuvre, threatening to distract from the mammoth feats of ornate composition within via the simple, gripping allure of these clean sung and sullen moments. Yet, again, there’ll be no successful summary of achievements without becoming blue in the face.

Daunting as The Ruins of Beverast‘s discography can appear it is likely only due to extended nature of each record. Each has required a fairly expensive double LP condition that appear as collectible events with replay value largely reserved for folks who’d discovered the band nearby swells of popularity in longform funeral doom and depressive/atmospheric black metal spaces. What was so refreshing about records like ‘Unlock the Shrine‘ (2004) and ‘Rain Upon the Impure‘ (2006) in the mid-2000’s wasn’t that they were relevant to those boons but that the atmosphere inherent was unlike anything else visible at the time, today they are most often noted for having raw production values but this was, and still is, a great stretch of the imagination for anyone even remotely familiar with the scathe of truly naïve raw black metal of any generation. Hooks, riffs, unusual melodies, and long oft experimental but not outright weird movements with a funereal atmosphere made an early name for The Ruins of Beverast yet my own discovery came several years later, roughly ten years after discovering von Meilenwald‘s previous black metal band Nagelfar (via a search for the similarly named Swedish group) and their brilliant avant-garde epic ‘Srontgorrth‘, which I still consider a personal favorite. It was the third album (‘Foulest Semen of the Sheltered Elite‘ 2009) that first hooked me in and without any particular research or connection made with the past. It’d simply reminded me of the classic Aeternus epic ‘…And so the Night Became‘ before prompting any closer inspection. This was notably a great boost in clarity for the project signaling the fully robed entrance of what I’ve long considered the “wake” of the emotional state that’d prompted the first two albums, a true funereal creep is emphasized here, not necessarily in speed but all-encompassing atmospheric density. Though I’ve spent many years marveling over that third record it was the next (‘Blood Vaults – The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer‘, 2013) that was love at first listen perhaps due to a longer love-affair with Dolorian‘s ‘When All The Laughter Has Gone‘, a blackened entity at death/doom metal sized pulses — It remains one of my all-time favorite records. Each release since has at least matched ‘Blood Vaults’ sheer gravitas with a psychedelic shower of blackened, heavily layered and gigaton slabbed doom events. ‘Exuvia‘ (2017) was notably the record that’d introduced Arioch‘s production/rendering to the project and this fit especially well with The Ruins of Beverast‘s modus, due to similar stylistic results found on Triptykon‘s ‘Melana Chasmata‘ and (more recently) Morast‘s second album. The question wasn’t “Where do we go from here?” but rather “Where will he go next?” and this is a very important distinction to make, we must accept when approaching a new record from von Meilenwald that it will be big, it will be its own “thing” and it will be distinctly The Ruins of Beverast in atmosphere.

I can already hear your brain shriveling and snapping under what radiation’d spark with anticipation for an in-depth sluice through a seven track ~70 minute atmospheric black/doom metal record so, I’ll preempt that thought with: Buy it if you’re already a fan. Listen to it several times over if you’re yet uninitiated, and scale back through the project’s greater discography to find what may hit hardest. There is yet genius to be put to tape as long as this fellow is physically capable and ‘The Thule Grimoires’ is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Freshly sacrificial textures, ominous surrealistic tones, morose voices, and perhaps some appreciation for the poetic fantasy of the Oera Linda Book? Without a lyric sheet in hand I can only assume the title of this story is potentially a reference to this long misunderstood and still mysterious hoax of old Frisian literature. It is worth reading but I do not yet see any palpable link between the themes of this album and the Oera Linda beyond the setting often being brutally cold and relatively primeval. von Meilenwald‘s lyrics have never been obviate or anything less than abstract interpersonal gear-turning so, it’ll be an aspect of this record to dig into if printed. Beige, patina, dull gold, and a greenish antiquity preface the deadpan “gothic” tonality that runs its considerable thread through ‘The Thule Grimoires’ as we hook directly into ~13 minute opener “Ropes Into Heaven”, disallowing the fire-warmed pallor of ‘Exuvia’ and instead chilling the ear with polar synth, sonar pinging wails, and watery guitar runs spanning numerous non-linear reveals throughout its length. It is vital to remember that the previous album was the first recorded in a professional studio, it becomes clear that if those results attained the unimaginable then we’re experience some fresh mastery as the gloriously dripping-forth reveal of this song overbears the senses. It is a cold, deepest sepia toned trench where we end up as this opening piece resolves its thrilling multi-tiered fanfare. In reflection of this first enormous gasp of The Ruins of Beverast‘s latest giant awakening two things are vitally noted: First, the vocals are increasingly melodic and full of memorable if not unusual patternation. Past albums contained clean vocal melodies but not such ornate and continuous phrases. Beyond that the level of detail here is slightly more dense than the previous two albums as the aggression of this album appears within the first two minutes, plunging into the textural payoff of this collection of sub-genre signifiers with the immediacy of a band like Mournful Congregation but the phrasal voice of a syllable-heavy language interpreting the looseness of gothic metal. All of this gels even more closely on the second chapter, “The Tundra Shines” wherein the surrealistic world music grinder of ‘Exuvia’ could find its potential ancestry here by some small stretch. Triumphant harmonized leads, growling fifteen guitar salutes, and a blast-heavy psychedelic motif for outsized verses make this one of the most hypnotic pieces that’ll likely overjoy folks who’d likewise loved ‘Foulest Semen of the Sheltered Elite’ and my nearby mention of peak Aeternus. Before I begin to dissolve into greater gushing self-indulgence, it must be said that the artist has reached a proficiency with each of these instruments that is hard to imagine in terms of laborious arrangement. The drum performances on “The Tundra Shines” feel positively obsessive in their placement and impress me to no end.

The first single and music video for the album “Kromlec’h Knell” of course brings to the forefront the reveal that this album wouldn’t deign to bury in the form of this hazy, mid-90’s gothic metal style of vocal. Spoken and effects-heavy expressions which I’d initially equated with albums like Owl‘s ‘Nights in Distortion‘ for lack of a better comparison in the realm of modern German gothic metal. In scrambling for precedent it’d be natural to look to Secrets of the Moon at this point but to be fair, even their most recent breakthrough album is quite different in tone and diction. There is yet vital and most memorable precursory moments like this one on ‘Unlock The Shrine’ and most every album from the band but of course the metal zeitgeist will point to obvious, unfitting places (such as Type O Negative) and this will throw less observant longtime fans for a loop. “Mammothpolis” only serves to compound this darkwave feeling, serving as an easing beyond the deeper hit of “Kromlec’h Knell” before we are back into the thick of the album. It’d take a bit of math to fully understand how this will translate when flipping between all four sides of the double LP but judging by past works the two heavily gothic metal/new wave influenced pieces at the heart of the full listen coincide with characterizing purpose. The second single, “Anchoress in Furs“, introduces itself with a burly, drenching riff and a directionally echoing caterwaul that repeats a couple of times before a grand chugging cinematic malevolent doom metal moment rolls in, now incorporating the clean vocal register introduced on prior pieces to its main revelatory verse. Were this a classic melodic black/death doom record this part would repeat several times but for “Anchoress in Furs” it is the core of a condensed climax before the piece takes several minutes to recede. This ends up being the least important inclusion on the running order for my own taste beyond offering a reasonable inclusion of the full vocal oeuvre into a viable piece. The thrashing stream of consciousness that bubbles up within “Polar Hiss Hysteria” and stokes the final fires of the record is especially lucid, sounding like Rotting Christ had returned to reprise ‘Theogonia’ after years of developing a black/doom metal presence and still retaining the operatic sense of vocal performance. Now, to be fair even I’ve barely the constitution to sit through the full album up to this point in one sitting and would naturally take a break around “Anchoress in Furs”. This was a bit of a shame early on in the process of some casual listening and it wasn’t until I’d turn to analytical mindset that the whole feat of the 70 minutes ‘The Thule Grimoires’ presents would diminish with familiarity. What I will say before finding some conclusion beyond description is that “Deserts to Bind and Defeat” ultimately justifies its 14+ minute length, though it likely won’t feel necessary ’til I’ve gotten the full saga of narration in hand.

Should I pull the rug out from under the “masterpiece” tag I’d assigned this album earlier for the sake of the overflowing, skull-voiding massive stature of ‘The Thule Grimoires’? No, though I will acknowledge that what the artist does with clean vocals in the middle portion of the album is far more engaging than what follows it and, I suppose the feeling that he’d need to “keep it up” in that regard stems from how accessible and appreciably resplendent those moments are. Draining, transformative, unpredictable, emotional, and yet never as vexing as some past works have been it might be fair to say this is The Ruins of Beverast at their most resolved characterization, a strangely peaceful morbidity thrives within the heaviest moments here and the elements many would discern as “experimental” or new for the project are merely fresh mastery of auld practices. As counterintuitive as it might sound based on earlier praise, this is perhaps the first record from the band that feels nostalgic in self-reflection, an evaluation that includes partially vaulting off of the new entry points that ‘Exuvia’ presented. The end result is an album that will directly appeal to fans who’d jumped into the fire in the last decade but perhaps focuses less intently on sheer monolithic tonal slaughter, aiming for a slickened gothic metal dynamic that remains impossible detailed and brutally heavy. Hopefully this answers “Where has he gone this time?” enough to warrant further interpretation and for my own taste it is a fine example of the mastery the artist has long presented in full, cinematically thriving extreme metal pieces. The only wonder I’m left with is this inkling that balancing vocal affect in such a manner leaves ‘The Thule Grimoires’ in a state of in-process fusion, a place where side-projects typically specialize (read: “birth”) from as offshoots. As a longtime fan of the band I find this album bold, freshly expressive, and still entirely packed with the signature unknowable force that is yet distinctly The Ruins of Beverast. A morose, affecting thrill and a masterfully woven extreme black/doom metal experience. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (95/100)

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Thule Grimoires
LABEL(S):Ván Records
RELEASE DATE:February 5th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Atmospheric Black/Doom Metal

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