SPIRE – Temple of Khronos (2021)REVIEW

Your grandeur passes, and your pageantry, / Your lordships pass, your kingdoms pass; and Time / Disposes willfully of mortal things, / And treats all men, worthy or no, alike;” Francesco Petrarca, Trionfi

A balking ode to the recurrence, or this quotidian inevitability of time as eternal passage in cyclic states among we sentient, necessitates some devout meditation upon not only impermanence but equitant energy transfer within the contained ecosystem that spurns these cycles onward. Seen through eyes obsessed with the greater reality of convex’d and concave forces within the topographic observable universe, self-preservation is an act of sentimental weakness; A self absorbed state of dense matter that exists to slow and subvert its own final form, an sub-atomic and equally distributed inertia. If reality would serve the corpse a quick and painless greyness, a carbonized and explosively disbursed body, it’d avoid writhing in primordial pools of nature (a profound state of incomplete suffering) stamped into unwillingly rearranged states for countless cycles of time. Sated or slowed, atomized or ailing, if we are to depict an ode to the greyness of time itself one must grip the unwieldy blade of chaotic collapse and spurn on all destructive catalyst — There’ll be little thrill in witness of the passage of time, only regret for any delay when an inert state finally achieves its radiation. Stagnation serves the human animal its too-brutal reality quicker than the ‘Gods’ would ever allow, as a species amounting to slowly, plainly rotting final layer of garbage upon scorched Earth. Spire is yet the product of persisting thought, meditation upon massive theoretical realities of existence that become monolith to absorb and forces of personal, deranged odes to unconquerable feats of the extreme metal medium. The Melbourne, Australia-borne duo presents their second album, ‘Temple of Khronos‘, as a gift not only to those wandering the pools of head-scouring cosmic interpretation but in reverence for the forces which the human mind cannot collapse, reduce, or order. It’d be the perfect irony if it were timeless in form but perhaps less interesting than this actual result, a mutation-heavy ladder of blackened extremism settled naturally into five imposing hymns to time itself.

In presentation of their latest work Spire suggest this record is a culmination, a grand composition where hysteria and some focus upon choral arrangement have lead to a representative work. Though this is true in the sense that the work itself is an achievement, easily their most accomplished and effectively original setting to date, it presents a pillar that will crumble within the meditation upon impermanence that the record is. Past builds have been formative, and we can glean a limited amount of information from revisiting the duo’s discography thus far. Their first EP (‘Spire‘, 2010) was essentially a bedroom black metal feat that was a ‘product of its time’ when the global atmospheric black metal experience was inarguably reaching its do-it-yourself peak. The style must’ve been influenced by Darkspace in terms of the simplicity of its design albeit with a less keenly balanced atmospheric value. Their second EP (‘Metamorph‘, 2011) was an important leap towards a melodramatic and commanding voice thanks to better-honed guitar work. It was yet funereal in its atmospheric black metal procession, clouded by rote chaotic reverb and plenty of Blut Aus Nord influenced dissonance. This felt like a fresh spurt of growth despite the ‘solo bedroom dissonant black metal’ affect of the record. To be sure this sort of recording was prevalent back in 2011 though the focus was admittedly on atmospheric values rather than typical virtuosity. The long break that followed in recordings was a period of much-needed insight beyond a personal exploration of ‘current’ black metal forms. It wasn’t until all manner of training towards increasing technical performance and voicing did Spire impress with their debut album (‘Entropy‘, 2016) which arguably expressed its influences clearly between shades of Ill Omen, Icelandic black metal, and especially the interim releases from Deathspell Omega. This dirging debut, dramatic and unafraid to experiment with some clean vocals had been the sort of album you’d expect from W.T.C. Productions around that year as there was a fearless and driven mood to its aggression despite not being an ‘occult black metal’ record, it’d fit in quite well on Iron Bonehead Production nonetheless. Though there is yet some of this dissonant, plodding tribalism infused into the greater code of Spire today this second full-length bears an effortlessly not-so-overt technical force, wherein a stark-serious yet increasingly connective attitude conveys. Far more multifarious vocal performances, narrative and actors alike, guide an irreverent psychedelia that rarely pushes the guitar work as sole focus, thankfully avoiding the well-mined and stagnant modulation of the innovations of ‘Paracletus’ and ‘Drought’, as prior.

What has changed and what has stayed the same? Little remains in the ashes of the past, they are long wet and dissipated into fresh earthen detritus, stomped flat and seeping back to form the core of Spire‘s cerebral-shocked modus. What persists is the disillusionment from present day reality, an accost upon thoughtless sentience and the parading self-flagellation of wastrel societies. The mind wanders upon time, not as a projection or a dissolver of permanence but in resolution of worship, an sour but stoic ode to eternity and the substrate of history rather than its symptomatic influence. Utilizing ancient liturgical format and some ideations of the Gnostic path finds the atmosphere of this well-evolved magisterial avant-garde black metal force in tune with uniquely psychedelic and frayed layers, not unlike those of certain The Ruins of Beverast records — The experience remains cognizant of a certain well-documented progressive black metal headspace that pushes beyond scene or too-specific lineage. Beyond this grand and atmospheric/melodic pathway a reasonable comparison of Spire‘s larger sphere would be anything as atmospheric and adventurous as Almyrkvi, in this case I’d specifically champion the underrated ‘Pupil of the Searing Maelstrom‘. ‘Temple of Khronos’ is occasionally as pressing and devout as Ascension‘s most recent work though not as complex in its unraveled state, the vocal work on this album may ultimately make up for that lacking density as Spire often reach for slivers of Primordial-esque harangue. As the lotus of ‘Temple of Khronos’ splays the result is an idiom of somehow paradigm-defiant black metal that is defined and readable as a set of hymnals yet the compositions themselves are arranged in irregular, storming paths. The second single from the album “Hymn IV – Puissant” clarifies a number of these observations within its first few moments, employing a chanted vocal presence and silvery lead guitar driven statement that is shaped yet irascibly lain at once. The avid listener knows these forms, understands that they all fit together but perhaps never had such a puzzle presented in such sublime form thus far. Around the ~5:30 minute mark these ‘Storm Before Calm‘-era Nemtheanga expressions haven’t appeared for the first time on the record but they are sparingly placed throughout to provide severe peaks within somewhat unpredictable-yet-knowable experiences.

The first single from the album “Hymn III – Harbinger” finds us on a more aggressively chaotic state of matter, where listlessly shrieked vocals clash with ghostly howls and hammering high-speed black metal attack. Solid in its crushing movements but unravelling mentally under the final weight of Side A. I do not want to suggest this album is without satisfying melody but much of it is presented as a panoramic revelation within bludgeoning chaos. In the case of this specific piece what unfurls beyond the 2:15 minute region of the song, some spoken-sung mediation before an unhinged, entirely malevolent clearing forms and rants its release, speaking as the song storms through its final minutes. The third and fourth hymns of the five are reasonable as singles, they present an accurate depiction of an album that makes sure each piece is an event in and of itself but these are not necessarily the most mind-flaying moments on ‘Temple of Khronos’ for my own taste. The even more Primordial evocative vocal entrance of “Hymn I: Tyrant” was an immediate body high, a strangely phrased and militant buzz into scalding mantra and clamoring blast. By placing this piece upfront they’ve lead with their most unique traits and impressively expanded oeuvre with stunning confidence. Misotheist did something similar with their record earlier this month and I would suggest a fan of that style will appreciate some aspects of this next evolution of those Icelandic black metal adjacent semi-melodic/atmospheric forms. To be sure, the nearly eleven minute trip of “Hymn II – Tormentor” is the prime mover in my mind palace, the feat to celebrate in the moment and in reflection of the whole. Though the running order flits between 5-10 minute pieces on average the experience is (again) unpredictable yet evenly distributed of its dramatic reveals and eye-of-the-storm moments. When the final hymn, “Hymn V – Khronos”, rolls out I couldn’t help but begin to feel like I’d already been sated, not that the song isn’t necessary as a conclusion and an impressively dramatic feat but that I’d almost expected more of a mutant apex rather than a dirging, inventive marriage of rhythm and voice.

‘Temple of Khronos’ feels ascetic, a painful cleansing for the actors and yet gloriously visceral spectacle in witness of its inhuman feat of devotional sacrifice. Spire aren’t yet demanding hard rock hooks or hand-holding rhythmic statements to cling to but they have presented a welcoming, frightfully deep chasm of somewhat original vocal applications that characterize mildly dissonant, epic black/death metal architecture. This is impressive with or without context of their past works, it surely is yet another paradigm apart from the previous step taken but it is also the largest gap cleared between past and present forms. The listening experience isn’t without riffs but also doesn’t seem to intend to carry more than a section or two of each song with guitar thunder or lead directive theatrics. The balance achieved yet focuses on atmosphere but not simply the incessant buzz of choppy atmospheric black metal, instead the hum of a transcendent future cult forsaking a deity that would never deliver upon their devotion. It is imaginative, involved, and fascinating as a full listen and a record that proved enough of a joy on repeat that I’d been compelled to grab a copy. A very high recommendation, sure to be a sleeper hit for ascendant black metal fans.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Temple of Khronos
LABEL(S):Sentient Ruin Laboratories
RELEASE DATE:February 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Avant-Garde Black Metal,
Atmospheric Black/Death Metal

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