MONTE PENUMBRA – As Blades in the Firmament (2021)REVIEW

Apsû opened his mouth / And addressed Tia-mat / “Their behaviour has become displeasing to me / And I cannot rest in the day-time or sleep at night. / I will destroy and break up their way of life / That silence may reign and we may sleep.Enūma Eliš

A wandering inevitability, a beast scourged by the pestilential clamor of unsustainable humanity yet unable to come to terms with the spear-torn infection that tameness and dependence wrought. Festering sharecrops conquer the human animal, shitting and eating of thoughtless homogenous spirituality and conquering the stumbling, feigned austerity of the ‘self’. The veil is yet in process of lifting as the viewpoint of collapse beneath the revelation of armageddon is astral, projected from impossible height with fish-eye’d and writhing focus by the telescoping terror of Portuguese black metal artist Monte Penumbra. Stale and poisonous, fermenting in brackish bitter potency their second full-length recording, ‘As Blades in the Firmament‘, does not feature an obviate reveal — Not until the realization has woven its venom through quietly dissolving vein does it hit that this doom is in-process, that there is no reverting the current state of being as we are dashed against the jagged rocks of its shore.

After twenty years of practicum involving stints in various parts of Gallia and Germania, and roughly ten years ago, an alienated return to Portugal saw guitarist, bassist, vocalist and songwriter W.uR forging relationships with fellowes in Ab Imo Pectore concurrent with the formation of his own project, Monte Penumbra. Having been a key member of Israthoum‘s early wiles throughout 90’s before phasing out of necessity when their leadership moved to the Netherlands, he’d eventually rejoined in 2005. I mention this association for the sake of pointing out that their modus and sound rarely line up yet their standards for depth are generally matched when temporally associated, each ambition rises with the tide of the other. When left to his own devices and faced with scattered pages of patient work W.uR‘s compositions have been notably intricate and evocative from the start. Inviting as the original rehearsals are I’d rather go straight to deliberate compositional proofs available on Monte Penumbra‘s debut ‘Heirloom of Sullen Fall‘ (2013) a mystifying work featuring Am Imo Pectore drummer Mons Vcnt. Much of what I’d herald about recent favorite artist Mystagos is available there, gloom-stricken and pale atmosphere akin to occult heavy metal nearby first wave black advent, yet chasmic and dissolving in motion; Swinging in motion but, from a noose rather than in mercury-tainted revelry or the touch of some Dionysian madness. What differentiated this first release most was its irreverent Side B, a second half experimenting with electronic and ritualistic textures that spoke leagues beyond typical coy adornment. This links up the sound of the band with light associations with Code and Israthoum, some distant ancestor of the work these bands would culminate in the decade previous. From a certain perspective this sort of debut doesn’t necessarily warrant replication in the slightest, not for distaste but the difficulty of recreating that magic within the same project would be a feat of unnatural lightning. There is a keen sense that the artist bled of this ideal quickly, changed in creation and busied himself for quite some time afterwards.

It would be reasonable to first see (eh, hear) the same guitarist in a concerted viewing of ‘The Black Realm Vigil‘ (2016) but its ruthless, black-raining attack perhaps best showcases the necessity of a more precise drum performance going forward. I won’t devalue the EP for that reason, though, some of the most untamed bludgeoning instincts the project has offered to date highlight its storming, orchestral chaos. I could cynically suggest this second key work found the artist aiming to realign with impressive advances, fresh tides in elite black metal, and meeting the high standards of circles inhabited could only have demanded evolution away from conquered norms, subverting complacent performance and arrangement. This is also how I see this second full-length record from Monte Penumbra, as a reproach of timeless constants in view of a maddening world without borders, gating, or the glaring light of detrimental faiths. The vortex of religion can no longer blind the faithful with its sagging guile and whim, the horror of the end is in view and the salvo of armageddon rings beyond the final trumpeter’s dying breath.

‘As Blades in the Firmament’ is just as much of a heavy metal record as ‘Heirloom of Sullen Fall’ was yet the atmosphere and perspective of the rendering sets it from a cold, dead corner of space where the glory of its storytelling omits its own blackened radiation. Gone is the occult doom feeling of the debut and today we’re treated to the crackling yet proportional combustion you’ll find on most all Oration Records releases as they are Studio Emissary productions. Voice persists as the topiary layer, the body of resonance is the guitars, and the drums provide the lower portion of the dimensionally set sound all pushes downward and outward as a columnar collapse with the bass providing flourish and spark despite existing behind the cloud-like guitar harangue. There are multiple points of force within each composition yet none stick out like a thorn, or impose too great a strangulation of any other element. I was conflicted about this to start, some of the first wave earthen clangor of the debut is traded for spacious, dust-spewing dramatism here but the end result is yet more of a mysterious force to unravel in the long run. Less of a “known” to swim through precariously. The anchor of the performances is notably the steady hand of drummer Bjarni Einarsson (Sinmara, Wormlust, Slidhr, et al.) who is infrequently a guest, Rebirth of Nefast‘s incredible ‘Tabernaculum‘ being a key action, yet this isn’t the first exception made for the sake of the artist’s vision as we find the release breaching several long dormant gates. The suggestion provided by its appearance is that there is, at the very least, an important statement to glean from the six wilting odes therein.

Where the dagger lands is right in our proverbial laps as the tangible realm of the divine, the delusional mind-hordes of faith driven followers, is served six great and gaping wounds. “Black Mould on Rye Grass” offers a failure of subsistence, the devolutionary taming that’d allowed mystified collective to begin with, materializes and sets a keystone unto the end. The ambiance beyond the ~2:45 minute mark offers a substantial hollow centerpiece for the song itself, encouraging recollection of the opening moments while still pushing forward with this fluid, spilling motion that persists throughout the full listen. If we map the events throughout the ~42 minute run of the album these pooling, reflective moments are perhaps the most ominous and menacing part of the experience. A bit of a glowing lure to calm the victim into torpor, unprepared and in my case almost distracted from the nuance available to start. Though the bass performances are placed within a rock guitar context as supportive tone, their occupation of “To Anoint the Dead” is not meaningless in providing a sort of ‘Unholy Cult’-esque tumescent ear-catching pull during the more frantic, sprawling sections of the guitar work. There are better comparisons to be made among modern Icelandic black metal artistry, and Einarsson‘s virtuosic drumming certainly pushes us into that realm as he was apparently a key collaborative element yet I would be hesitant to try and place “scene” or nation-specific trend to these pieces.

“Foreboding in Tidal Breaths” might appear as just another stone in this frothing at all edges stream offered by ‘As Blades in the Firmament’ though I’d found it to be the most representative moment on the album, highlighting several characteristic aspects of Monte Penumbra‘s signature and debating the ever-flowing sameness that’d initially embattled my appreciation of the record during early listens. There is an evolved, simmering groove available within this song that unlocks the greater nuance of W.uR‘s compositional apparatus and sets the tone of this album apart from past works, think of it as a hidden violence in need of investigation to appreciate; A certain numbness comes in view of an atrocity that was always there, it becomes that much harder to regret when unwittingly taking part and pleasure in the process and result, one must begin to regret their ‘self’ in the process. “Trephining the Severed Head of the Oracle” offers a very satisfying 11+ minute apex, a boiling and kinetic shatter to tie together the experience that finishes with several minutes of ambiance. The unfortunate result of this spirited climax is that it left some yearning for ‘bigger’ moments within the mid-portion of the album, a sense of building tension has to be gleaned somewhat desperately by the listener between lyric and rapt attention to each movement. If there is any complaint to be launched, and there hardly is, it is that the cool resolve of ‘As Blades in the Firmament’ left me to investigate its inspiring elements rather than splattering me with the usual bloody wrack of black metal. A matter of perception, and perhaps for the sake of successful atmosphere which is tantamount here beyond concept. I do find this album memorable though it took some serious investment beyond surface level engagement of greater shapes and tonality, an easy to recommend experience but perhaps only to the sort of folks willing to approach black metal as art slithering beyond the indentation left by heavy metal. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:As Blades in the Firmament
LABEL(S):End All Life Productions,
Oration Records
RELEASE DATE:March 26th, 2021
GENRE(S):Black Metal

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.