AETHYRICK – Pilgrimage (2022)REVIEW

The phantoms take more definite shape, now that he sleeps. The lubric enlacements of the branches, dilated crevices and cleft mosses, the coupling of the diverse beings of the wood, disappear; the tears of the leaves whipped by the wind are dried; the white abscesses of the clouds are resorbed into the grey of the sky; and—in an awful silence—the incubi and succubi pass.” J.K. Huysman, Là-bas

We rejoin the protagonist just beyond the first act of life, a breach of societal contract which serves as the catalytic point of no return in the form of a most severe severance from community — Murder. What’d be damnation in shackles, a caged-animalistic climax unto misery for most, is instead an unconditional release into the wilds for the offender, wiping his blade before entering headfirst unto a hermetic lifetime amidst nature, forever set apart from his fellow man. His inevitable theophany is less self-crowning sustain and moreso an entirely internalized reintegration, a oneness sustained with true creation rather than the imagined delusions of populist cult. So begins the fourth chapter of Finnish melodic black metal duo Aethyrick‘s naturalist Satanic litany, a ‘Pilgrimage‘ brimming with purpose beyond the chilling events that’d made it all possible. Colored with reflective red coral and glowingly lush arcane atmospheric thrush, we find these fellowes now achieving a state of fluidic trance that is impenetrable for the sake of its uninterrupted rhythm yet quite easily enjoyed in a restful, folded state.

That is to say that if you’re no fan of beauteous, skygazing moments in black metal or the ecstasy of the head’s collapse onto either shoulder as a symptom of its imbibe you’ve already likely skipped out on Aethyrick‘s generally mid-tempo progression of style beyond their debut (‘Praxis‘, 2018) as their sound evolves in logical stages of desirous effect. With that said the natural peak offered by ‘Apotheosis‘ (2021) beyond the earned wisdom shared on ‘Gnosis‘ (2020) enters a new phase, a paradigm set beyond deeply introspective thought which now centers ‘Pilgrimage‘ around actionable ideals. Though the dynamic of theme, narrative, and art curation suggests a new era of ‘self’ in mind it’d be fair to say that if you loved the direction the previous album had taken in stride then, musically speaking, you’re in for an equally if not more consistently warming atmospheric/melodic black metal experience, drenched in guitar hooks and forest synth-aided melodies at an artery-oozing pace.

The tracklist here infers the progression of theme just as the table of contents in a novel would read chapter-to-chapter as the protagonist crosses the threshold (which is likewise depicted in the cover artwork) with “The Turning Away” and soon develops relationships first with the ‘self’, the elements, the celestial bodies, ’til inheriting a kingdom of one. I restate the premise of the album since it’ll have a bit more impact with consideration for the continuous, steadied melodic language Aethyrick have proffered and proliferated specifically on their two most recent records. The minor note for ‘Pilgrimage‘ versus past records, in my mind, is that very few seams are showing here, wherein every moment has some musical value beyond the usual vexation of repetition which most bands similar in style offer. The bulk of Side A develops a sophisticated sense of melody without overstating it, building tension unto each bout of chorus’d reveal without any fumbling about modern rock influenced rhythms or reveals. The finest example off the top of my head being “Threefold Resurrection”, which is in many ways a signature Aethyrick showpiece, presented with strong relativity to the conversational/narrative voice of the full listen without getting lost in the shuffle of its droning bliss.

With that said and my past reviews for ‘Gnosis‘ and ‘Apotheosis‘ in hand, I’d still feel comfortable recommending their general resonance to fans of early Ulver, Lunar Aurora, Winterfylleth and of course the more evolved atmospheric black metal out of Finland over the years. What sets this duo apart from those bands while upholding their higher standards is, again, consistency of tone and melodic language. It’ll be hard to describe why a song like “Winds of the Wanderer” becomes such an affecting event unless you’re in the midst of a full listen to ‘Pilgrimage‘ wherein this particular piece not only grants its will-o-the-wisp synth/keyboard directive to the progression of its main melodic reveal but the second half of this statement which develops halfway through the song. The record has quietly ramped up to this moment throughout Side A and now that Aethyrick‘s voice has full immersed they’ve stricken with what is a most potent song, for my own taste anyhow.

Pilgrimage‘ does not recede toward its climax from there, but rather sustains its gusting movement as “A Brother to the Stars” presses on, now focusing even more intently upon its use of keyboards while delivering what is more of an anthem in structure than it is an internalization, picking up the pace and rousing the transition into Side B. As someone with familiarity enough to suggest fandom I’d say this is where the album had more-or-less sold me on its graces, there being no real downside to the accessible and beauteous side of Aethyrick‘s craft becoming not only more pronounced but satisfyingly elaborated. And yet they go on to deliver intensifying throes with the short-yet-effective “The Moon and Her Consort” and the gratifying resolve of “Kingdom”, which closes the full listen. This final track more or less contains the finer rhythm guitar work on the album for my own taste but more importantly a strong bass guitar voicing which adds a brilliant touch to what very well deserves to be the grand realization of ‘Pilgrimage‘ with its “biggest” melodic hook and most intensely lain movement. This was the pour over the brim beyond being solidified by “A Brother to the Stars”, wherein I’d what could easily be seen as a typical record from these folks as something a bit ‘extra’ by way of its wholly considered presentation, the choice to fully lean into their uniquely set melodic voice and the smoothing of most edges available.

That’ll be the major note for black metal listeners whom haven’t an ear for atmospheric and especially melodic realms of the craft, this record won’t necessarily leave you feeling any sort of dread nor will it strike barren your personal constitution. ‘Pilgrimage‘ instead presents a spiritual awakening, an slowly earned uplift woven into the psyche without a hammer or any sort of mayhemic weapon in sight, it’ll be no bludgeon beyond its ideas and should innately appeal to those guided by their own inner voice. Though I’d initially felt a few points were cloying to start the minutiae available, or, the “wind up” towards these loftiest cloudiest moments are in most every case earned in their elaborately delivered precision. As an existing fan, the impact of Aethyrick‘s craft has only grown over the course of their last several albums and I see no slight or droop in their work here, an entirely professional and inspired melodic black metal work. Your results will of course vary. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
LABEL(S):The Sinister Flame
RELEASE DATE:March 31st, 2022

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