WARMOON LORD – Battlespells (2021)REVIEW

It was the fog perhaps. The fog blurred everything. There were no precise outlines, no clear, sharp dangers, and the glowing figures in the mist approached slowly, seeming almost to float up the graveled slope toward the ancient ruin, bringing their obscuring fog with them. Their faces, their very shapes were indistinct, softened until they seemed hardly more than glowing blurs. It was the fog, perhaps – but then again, perhaps not.” David Eddings, The Shining Ones

Erasing the past and all marks of prior conquests by way of an even taller-castled kingdom atop the ruins, eclectic and multi-talented Finnish musician Lord Vrăjitor flays the horizon in widest striding slash on this second full-length album from his solo black metal project Warmoon Lord. ‘Battlespells‘ yet relies upon auld heroism in the most appropriately vulgar sense but claims rightful rule here thanks to a long-unveiled, yet sparingly cast propensity for well-orchestrated magick in hand. We are far from the sorrow-filled dungeons past-and-presently under his construct though these are no less moribund and destitute tales of warfare meant to shatter all helms of light and spill their atmospheric riches, a moonglow-enriched starfield, upon this freshly cut horizon. New wars bring fire to the blood-purpose of old and lost wizards within this hateful and oaken ritual of nostalgia, to shatter the realm and construct a new gleaming last word on his brand of mythic, sword-dancing black metallic handicraft.

Melodic black metal with a heavily featured atmospheric keyboard presence cannot hope to stick in the mind without above-average guitar work, it could back in 1998 when a loud-honking Wagnerian streak was at its most novel expression but the records with the finest guitarists held best then and stand strongest today. This opinion bodes well if you likewise carry it into Vrăjitor‘s work in Warmoon Lord, as he appears most comfortable composing with a guitar in hand and a keyboard nearby. The fellow is active in doom (Musta Risti), traditional heavy metal (Loanshark), and various other projects as a guitarist but he is best known for dungeon synth magistrate Old Sorcery whom remain one of the most consistently compelling world-whirlers within that realm at present. In fact as Old Sorcery began to slide deeper into a blend of atmospheric black metal and dungeon synth on ‘Sorrowcrown’ (2020) it seemed to be for the sake of black metal songcraft inspiring the artist beyond the release of the aura-crumbling and raw regalia of ‘Burning Banners of the Funereal War‘ (2019). The aim then was certainly to invoke the intentionally naïve and hobbled cults of the early 90’s, the album was generally compared to Vlad Tepes though it couldn’t help but land with more purpose and precision than that’d suggest. Much like Hulder‘s debut full-length from earlier this year we see a bit of a sea-change observable within the project’s vestigial/interim releases, namely the ‘Pure Cold Impurity‘ split with Vultyrium which portended some massive refinement and grandeur be injected into the next work.

Cold, cruel swaths of orcish blood now boil in the dark sun of Ancient‘s ‘The Cainian Chronicle’ and Throne of Ahaz‘ ‘On Twilight Enthroned’, albums that resemble both logical extremes and inventive niche whom, alongside mid-to-late 90’s Troll were previously considered “second tier” symphonic black metal before nostalgia re-writ this perception properly. This is where the mind should gather tone, atmospheric depth and ferocity of attack when approaching this second Warmoon Lord album. The artist’s taste likely pulls back a few years prior to 1995 where earlier releases from each artist focused on raw-yet-melodic guitar movements, a more destructive station that is best equated with Isvind‘s debut. For the well-versed fan this divination should speak to the raw and breathy ‘heavy metal’ heroism of ‘Burning Banners of Funeral War’ more directly whereas ‘Battlespells’ is a much cleaner, richer experience. That is to identify the seedling rather than the greater Ent, which of course fits very well on Werewolf‘s roster in sidling up beside Vargrav and Goatmoon naturally while still managing an entirely self-sourced sound.

“Purging Nefarious Vortex” gets right to the heart of this classic yet personally modulated species inherent as a piece that emphasizes both Vrăjitor as a guitarist, surely bringing strong hint of early Emperor into this first impression until 1:59 minutes into the song where we hit the first of many sword-swinging heavy metal riffs that bring some serious stride to pieces that’d otherwise envelope and suffocate the listener. This is not only a memorable and characterizing aspect of several compositions here on ‘Battlespells’ but we begin to see a pattern of both riff introduction and then extension with long breaks in between, multiple high-speed melodic arcs developing and resolving within the greater structure. Each half of the album features several takes on this but it was “Empowered by Battlespells” and its Grand Belial’s Key-esque riff around the ~4:15 minute mark that convinced me to take a much closer look under the hood. Sure, we could point to a handful of similar Finnish guitarist’s work for the resilient sort of melodies in ear but, I found this sort of austere transitional riff (played only a few times) developed in profound ways upon re-listening, especially as the riff is technically ‘completed’ at ~6:22 as the song ends. By the time the charge of album closer “In Perennial Twilight” was at full gallop I’d been convinced that this wasn’t just a nostalgic record but an impressive bolt of Finnish black metal that manages to stand quite strong by its own merit and power out rousing riffs that are only made more nuclear white hot by the sky-filling glow of the artists keyboard/synth prowess. These are my favorite pieces for the sake of enjoying Vrăjitor as a guitarist first and foremost but there are several more that perhaps highlight him as a profoundly detailed composer and as a fellow with some considerable taste in this format.

The piece that’ll have most shitting their guts with the anxietous shuddering of pre-battle bellows should be obvious after a run or two through the full event, “The Key of the Moonpiercer” is the requisite aerial view of an impossible scaled Karelian war in the mountains. This is, at least to my ear, the most “modern Finnish” black metal piece if we focus on the guitar work but we’d miss the point of how all elements coalesce and soon take us on a blood-curdling ride on through battle. It is a showpiece for a merger between old highly competitive late 90’s black metal ideals, new insights on expansive atmosphere and dynamic movement, and the personal touch of Warmoon Lord which cannot help but smear its glowingly melodious atmospheric climes upon even the most brutal or eerily dark movements on the album; And of course this is not a complaint, this sort of music should be propulsion into darkness on such a level to be effective or memorable at all. There isn’t a missable, skippable, or redundant piece among the lot and I’d found the whole experience impeccable rendered and ordered. The fact that there are big riffs and this fellow’s knack for world-building key tapping all over ‘Battlespells’ makes it one of few requisite indulgences this year. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (82/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Werewolf Records
RELEASE DATE:June 25th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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