“A morte não me arrepía e o mal que desejo ao meu nemigo é que viva até sobrevivirse. Eu son dos que estruchan a cara pra apalpa-la propia calivera e non fuxo dos cimeterios endexamais.” Alfonso Daniel Rodríguez Castelao, Un ollo de vidro. Memorias d’un esquelete
Through advancing deathlike radiance and upon the crest of each peaking wave of morbidity abound, I now see far more than any astral projection could muster. The madness in marvel of a devout storyteller’s perspective conveying Εὕα, the mt-MRCA, and a lost-in-translation divine retribution serves to immortalize the fall of man unto a shamed existence, a subservience assigned. The horror of mortality and the rotten tendency of flesh offers transcendence unworthy of fear, a rightful state of matter that’d been chaotically agitated into kudzu-like human existence for millions of years. Without the netherworld as a primal opposing actor another state of being is posited of death, wherein the trap door out of life is redrawn as a portal of self-imposed divining sight. Absorbed into motionless terror, affixed in rupture by the all-consuming dark, the skull presses to this gelatinous portal and eyesight alone bursts through beyond death. The will of the human being to adapt against the inevitability of death is a form of inherited madness and muse for the freeing, amorphous course of Soutomaior, Spain based black/death metal quartet Balmog as their vision is siphoned into tangibly captured fluxion on this fourth full-length, ‘Eve‘. By influence of borderless craft, classic Galician literature at its most profound, and the unleashed nature of contemplative rock/heavy metal expression they embody an minor revolt against the status quo of musical and readable avant-garde extreme metal.
A nine year wait to produce a debut full-length is not always for the sake of perfection but, instead an artist with the keen and common sense to develop personal style that breaks free from mundanity. The choice to stand alone and stand out rather than produce works of trendy, worthless follower art is beyond admirable. Formed in 2003 and soon releasing several demos, EPs and splits before their 2012 debut, Balmog began as a a motion obsessed, somewhat aimless black metal act not long after a few members had left a previous project, Inmacula Mortem. Their first few demo tapes ‘The Discipline & Poetry of Pest‘ (2006) and ‘Pestilent Rats for Your Moribund Children‘ (2007) were nonetheless professional and performed at a high standard showing an already developed sense of rhythmic movement with some compositional ends to tie off on most songs. It shouldn’t be understated that some of these folks were young but not inexperienced, in fact bassist Morg played in a fantastic early 90’s death metal band Unhallowed (see: ‘Something in my Inside‘, 1994). We don’t see the shift towards black/death fully kicking in into the first EP (‘Necroangels’ Revelations‘, 2010) where occult black/death and bestial black metal elements began to corrupt the smooth movements of earlier work finally inspiring the breakthrough that’d lead to Balmog‘s debut full-length (‘Testimony of the Abominable‘, 2012) wherein vocalist Balc (ex-Witchfyre, Marthyrium) finds his expressive, possessed and shaken clean vocal style beyond his well-developed bloody rasp. The momentum from this point was enhanced by nearby acts attaining nearby notice (Sartegos, Sheidim) and ongoing relationships with BlackSeed Productions, Necromorbus Studios, and Javi Félez‘ Moontower Studios producing consistently strong results starting with ‘Svmma Fide‘ in 2015 and the more daring, raw render of ‘Vacvvm‘ (2018). Consider each release up to this point ominous build-up towards the point of unshackling this notion of death-infused black metal orthodoxy. For the sake of brevity on my part, each of these albums are worth owning and remain vital iteration for Balmog but what comes next is a deluge of even more distinct personality, waving defiance in the face of the past.
A meditation upon impermanence, mankind’s ingrained defiance of the divine and a shattering of sub-genre borders in true practice the ‘Pillars of Salt‘ EP would represent a major highlight of plague year MMXX for my own taste, not only because it was a step far beyond expectations set by Balmog‘s previous three records but also for the sake of it being one of the first truly exceptional records I’d reviewed in the midst of statewide (and soon countrywide) pandemic lockdown. Shades of post-punk/death rock shakiness, traditional heavy metal and occult black/death metal heaviness essentially coalesced into one ~18 minute piece, a standalone statement but also a fully condensed preview of what borderless craft they’d present on ‘Eve’. The two works can be reasonably considered companions both for themes, sub-genre dithering and general capture quality. Is this not, then, a new face entirely for Balmog or, a new modus iterated upon? They haven’t leaped a full evolutionary stage forward in the space of less than a year but instead expanded upon the best features of the multifarious style ‘Pillars of Salt’ brought. Much of what ‘Eve’ does to keep this freshened momentum wheeling forth begins with finding an appropriately oppressive and raw sound and atmospheric value again with Javier Félez (Graveyard, Teitanblood), whom now also joins the band as a fourth member on guitar. Just as important as this extra attention to detail in terms of sound design feels like a grand triumph, so does the vexing dark theological and mystic lyrical themes of ‘Eve’, which take the core ideal of ‘Pillars of Salt’ to a next level of sophistication; By pooling select influences from Fernando Pessoa, Xose Maria Diaz Castro and the previously cited Alfredo Castelao we are ensured biblical events, surrealistic passions, and a fascination with the realm of the living and the dead seen as fluid states of being and observance.
A state of unsettling horror finds Balmog channeling ‘Eve’ through their seemingly (on paper) forced puzzle pieces of taste where references to 70’s progressive rock, 80’s post-punk/no wave, and 90’s black & death metal innovators are translated to inventive, rocking extreme metal pieces with an unpredictable, almost feral-yet-progressive spirit. The best way the band have presented this so far in terms of commentary is perhaps in description of the ideal production sound, a dark and organic render with an oppressive quality wherein they’ve juxtaposed the first Danzig album with Teitanblood‘s ‘Seven Chalices’, and the first Carcass album with In Solitude‘s ‘Sister’. This should clarify the general origin of their rhythmic language and the calming bouts of ominous psychedelia (“Lume”, “Desacougo”, etc.) laced throughout the experience but it not an exact match beyond the implication of extreme metal filth and distraught, introverted heavy rock. We risk overstating some aspects of ‘Eve’ by focusing too heavily on the sub-genre crossover within, whereas we could look to fellow BlackSeed Productions act Mystagos and various other occult black metal acts for similar integration of certain black metal + outsider rock adherents doing similar things to perturb the orthodoxy of thier craft. Though these are all fine avenues of research the best place to find nascent traits in an arguably well-formed state is yet Balmog‘s third full-length ‘Vacvvm’, which might not have as clear-cut rock influences upon rhythm as a whole but does feature a similarly swaying vocal performance.
“Birth of Feral” begins with as direct a plunge as possible into the deep end of this deathrock chiseled sound, emphasizing the irregular vocal vibrato as a sort of centerpiece for open-swinging progressive black/death metal pieces, which land somewhere between the sinister float of Sinmara and the patient lunging of early 2010’s Necrovation at their hardest but, without resembling the exacting heavy metal traditions that drive those bands. Lead single “Senreira” then proceeds to stretch out of its own ready set bounds a la Tribulation‘s ‘The Formulas of Death’, a record that’d achieved similar tonality using more exclusively 70’s rock beat modulation. The album will open up like a crumbling puzzle for most listeners as these two pieces introduce it, a beguiling darkness with spurts of unexpected vocal and tempo patternation, yet the blur upon structure is heavy enough here that only devotees of bands like Voivod or maybe even the most recent Reveal! record will “get it” up front and chill out. “Slander” practically insists you calm into its doomed and watery movements, a major highlight for Side A which fans of ‘Pillars of Salt’ will appreciate for it being pulled from the same sinister, zombified psychedelic metal dirge pace as some later movements from that piece. The “point” of this first side and its arrangement is unmistakable as a reinforcement of this extreme metal meets obscure rock music crossover and I found it a brilliant introduction to the album as a whole. Things do not change drastically here in terms of stylistic indication but Balmog definitely keep the listener on their toes with increasingly surrealistic and unfocused pieces.
“Desacougo” was released as part of a promotional EP in preparation for this album and though it might appear as a natural extension of what Balmog‘d been doing on the first half of the album this one kicks off what I’d consider a more Killing Joke-esque use of guitar effects and rhythm that never truly stretches the wings as far as the idea implies it will. I did not personally find this mid-to-later portion of the album to be of any great value to start beyond transitional movements due to the interlude of “Agnus Dei”, the instrumental jam “Zohar”, and the extended spoken section of “Desacougo” appearing uneventful. As a fan of psychedelic rock and some post-punk I understood these elements in terms of a 35-40 minute rock album but the detail does begin to lack for an extreme metal record after several repeat listens. “Carrion Heart” does a lot to salvage Side B with a reprise of progressive rock guitar riffs, Maiden-esque gallops, and bopping horror rock pace but ‘Eve’ is now miles from where it’d started off with a handful of straight to the far-side pieces. After some considerable time spent with the album, engaged and otherwise, I’d eventually come around to the “ride” of Side B after the tension-and-release of Side A though I did end up preferring the opening set of pieces to the less outward statements of the finale. I’d considered this a disparity but eventually came around in seeing a largely intentional but not overworked set of songs, viewing ‘Eve’ as a sort of avant-garde post-punk record for folks who cannot live without extreme metal’s force and over the top tonal range.
The effect of the full listen could be described as vexing, lush yet impossibly dark, in flux, and something akin to the chaos of wearing more than one hat without patience… Holding fast to one pretense without solvency for the other until finally choosing to go without wearing a hat at all. Though I would like to see much more iteration ’til they’ve found a more perfect balance between various influences that keeps more consistent energetic values, I cannot help but be more of a Balmog fan today than prior for the sake of how daring and easily picked up and enjoyed ‘Eve’ undoubtedly is. It is the perfect set of steps beyond ‘Pillars of Salt’ and a mind-bending work to say the least. A very high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||War Anthem Records,|
|RELEASE DATE:||May 28th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
|GENRE(S):||Occult Black/Death Metal|
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