Wickedness may a man take wholesale with ease, smooth is the way and her dwelling-place is very nigh; but in front of Virtue the immortal gods have placed toil and sweat, long is the path and steep that leads to her, and rugged at the first, but when the summit of the pass is reached, then for all its roughness the path grows easy.” Hesiod, Works and Days

Heracles at the crossroads, the ‘self’ and the species parsed unequal, and the ruin that well-intentioned men rain upon civilization in pursuit of par excellence. — Herein the soil of mankind piling under us serves not contentment but complacency, or, the seeming death-sentence of mediocrity as it erodes our fragile monuments of ‘progress’ to dust, scourged of thinnest veneer by our own excitable bile. From all vantage our eyes and ears are serenaded with the tragedian arc of idealism via a flapping venom-winged beauteousness, unearthly clouds of burning endtyme looming in the corners of every stunning blink. An inherently existentialist inquest charged by Stockholm, Sweden-based melodic black/death metal band Netherbird, this their sixth full-length ‘Arete‘ is to be the enlightenment away from the insanity of greatness’ pursuant by way of cold actualization. A restorative quandary of ‘regret amidst success’ hails within deepest reflection as this final trilogy-piece of their evolved tradition gifts us bounding melodeath rhythms tempered to stoic sky-billowing loft, angling high the quintet’s beloved point of view in such a way that yet abates the bleeding throat of meaning under threat of our settling dusk.

Is it morose contemplation, a distraught yearning for more at the end of days, that fuels their expression or a knowing wisdom that guides them striding so readily into the abyss? Beyond the well-developed yet distinctly Swedish style of blackened melodic death metal Netherbird are known for it is the lyrics which have captivated me in inordinate fixation compared to that of their peers, whom we should count Wormwood and perhaps newer leaguers Thron and Bane. The wretched, open-wounded anti-cosmic bloodiness one might expect from a melodic black/death metal hybridization of their ilk instead persists with thoughtful prose, presenting an already cold enough reality spiraling into further-flung darkness which… ain’t such a bad thing in the midst of being devoured by it.

If there is any puzzle to unlock between the formation of Netherbird in 2004 and their brief cessation in 2014 it won’t necessarily yield any great informatic beyond their persisting melodic black metal values and some brilliant drummers in their wake (The Wretched End, Aeon, At the Gates, Ondksapt – alumnus among ’em). When reforming in 2016 the addition of Fredrik Andersson during his post-Amon Amarth boon in activity (see also: This Ending, A Canorous Quintet) seems to have been just one variable pushing Netherbird‘s sound into a new, decidedly traditional vision of melodic black/death metal; Early 90’s in spirit but updated to the ethereal gigantism of modern melodic death metal, we can look to the atmospheric/post-music sized 2010’s evolution of Omnium Gatherum and Be’lakor to start but with the classics of Swedish melodic black metal overriding any excess in poor taste — It is admittedly a roundabout way to suggest a modern cleanliness applied to the old ways but this ends up being the best way to differentiate ‘The Grander Voyage‘ (2016) from their first few records. I’d already indicated much of this plot back in 2019 in my review for ‘Into the Vast Uncharted‘ an album I’d greatly appreciated for its gloaming melancholia and general update given to its predecessor that’d locked into an emotional current while also supporting some of the great ideals of melodic Swedish metal. The short version? Veteran Swedish dark metal, idyllic melodic black/death melancholy, impeccably professional rendering and performance, an example of the ‘old and new’ coalescing without pandering indignation.

What strikes me foremost when considering the greater presentation of ‘Arete’ is its cinematic value, the scope of the thematic conversation upheld and the depth of its sound design all appearing to scale in unison, and without any lost resolution, when examining the detail afforded each individual piece. At face value, gloomiest yet triumphant melodic death metal fills the air like summertime forest-sourced smoke from the very start: The crack of thunder signaling the arrival of the storm-heart isn’t a particularly “fresh” moment for the opening of a heavy metal record, but here the dark cloud borne muster of “Âme Damnée” giving way to opener “Towers of the Night” beyond makes good on the promise of tumultuous deluge and a grand fanfare. We could generally set Netherbird nearby many modern melodic black/death metal acts and find them to appear singular in phrasing yet ‘classic’ in their sophisticated attack, and perhaps because their guitar work is cognizant of the extended history of Swedish melodic extreme metal without fixating on a specific classic, (again) resembling a long-developed extension of traditional craft but maintaining their own signature atmosphere of wonder and contemplation developed most steadily over the past two records. They’ve even directly suggested that this is the third in a trilogy of works starting in 2016, perhaps to subtly suggest the reach for an idyllic iteration of this style has been sated with this record, or nullified through the argument it symbolizes.

Two albums immediately begin to ring in mind as the running order shifts from anthemic, tragedian bluster toward classic heavy metal revelry: The fire-eyed finality of Dissection‘s ‘Reinkaos’ (see: “Infernal Vistas”) and an atmospheric easement upon the lead-driven affect of late 90’s Dark Tranquillity (‘The Mind’s I’, or nearby) but this probably could’ve been said of certain excitable pockets of ‘Into the Vast Uncharted’ as well. What counts most here is a mix of memorable “catchy” melodic black/death apropos guitar work and, generally speaking, far more engaging lead-driven pieces that present us with chest-aimed strikes of spirited melodicism. High-fidelity recordings are neither a requisite nor preference for my own taste but when it comes to this style of melodic black/death metal craft a certain standard is often expected which buries the guitar tone in the Hell of over-polished modern production values. I’d say Sverker Widgren‘s (Wing Studios) render nearly gives us the opposite issue, giving nearly too much of the spotlight to the enormous, guitar tone here as it serves Netherbird their biggest, most engaging record to date. Lyrics that sustain a worthy chain of thought, generationally sound sub-genre elevation, memorable songwriting, glass-flicking professional fidelity — There is a battery of impeccably presented spectacle to encounter when appreciating the afterglow of ‘Arete’ in reflection. What intimacy we lose by direct comparison with prior Netherbird releases presents as a worthy trade for the exciting tension and extreme bombast that defines the glorious struggle of ‘Arete’. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
RELEASE DATE:July 30th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Melodic Black Metal,
Melodic Black/Death Metal

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