THE SPIRIT – Of Clarity and Galactic Structures (2022)REVIEW

Escapism seeking to propitiate the vast unknowable universe in bowed and murmuring marvel, most of this third full-length from popular Saarbrücken, Germany-based melodic black/death metal duo The Spirit is spent offering the insignificance of the flawed, self-important human species as sacrificial fire, an mass ego-death enacted in hopes of clarification of the scale of cosmic purpose and any meaningful placement therein. ‘Of Clarity and Galactic Structures‘ is of course intensely immured in its deeper thoughts as a result, an tunneling introversion which occasionally forgets to punctuate its willful, briar-thick entanglement with performative gesture. Though they’ve lost none of their signature mid-paced take on classicist cosmos-bound melodic black metal voicing, and their compositional capability yet bears an appreciably accessible sound, this album is one for the listener seeking the transfixion of quasi-deep and sustained focus upon existential rationalization.

The Spirit self-released their debut album (‘Sounds From the Vortex‘, 2017) as the sole release from their own Eternal Echoes imprint without any demo or EP preamble in build of “brand”, as is the custom today, and yet it’d found considerable widespread acclaim at the time. Nuclear Blast picked the record up and reissued it in 2018 selling quite well by most accounts. The major reason for the hype? Though there is precedence in German black metal for some strong influence arisen from Sweden’s earliest melodic black metal acts, few bands achieve any sort of mass-appealing songcraft of it and The Spirit, a proper touring band, were so evocative of groups like Dissection that folks ran with it. Their second album (‘Cosmic Terror‘, 2020) was not only a much better album but it’d performed to scale, lining up with the stylistic ambitions of groups like Thulcandra, Thron, and Vorga in finding a classic-yet-modern take on said regional sound. The way I saw it when I’d reviewed it, you can pretty much print money with a certain sound and aesthetic but it helped that they were considerable songwriters and technicians. By all means it wasn’t exactly ‘Reinkaos‘ in terms of being memorable and they weren’t recreating the brutality of the mid-90’s in truth but it was a memorable listen, the only element missing from their vision of melodic black/death metal was The Spirit‘s own standout soul, their unique elaboration of the form.

It’d make sense to see ‘Of Clarity and Galactic Structures‘ as a reach for a much needed dose of personalized ambition with their past releases in mind, as they’ve clearly put some considerable work into their greater evolutionary expression without stretching into any too-brave realms. Written and recorded in the space of one year the suggestion here is that The Spirit, still largely composed and lead by vocalist, guitarist and now bassist Matthias Trautes has taken a progressive metal influenced turn on this album, if only in reference to some use of unusual time signatures aided by the impressive yet straight-forward positioning of drummer Manuel Steitz. They’ve still not ventured too far from their original reference point in terms of vocal register yet Trautes‘ intentionally complex compositions now center around forcefully meandering run-on riffs and rhythms which should rightfully conjure reference to the lead heavy layered approach to movement found on mid-to-late 90’s Death records. ‘Symbolic‘ this is not in terms of “this is my sixth album and this is deep” profundity but The Spirit do a fantastic job of melding the two ideals into their own well-shaped being, taking their shared ‘heavy metal’ dramatism and finding some agreement between Schuldiner‘s lyrical accost of unjust human nature and Nödtveidt‘s marveling at scenes of death magick and larger than life entity.

Eh, so that’s it then? Dissection‘s compositional standards/sound meets rhythms influenced by later Death? Man, it kind of is if you’re in a reductive mood and for many people (myself included) they’ll have done such a good job at melding those two very influential worlds together (see: “Repression”, “Celestial Fire”, “Arcane Wanderer”) that even when trying to balk at the thought it’d still inspire. The major consideration on my part naturally turns to the thought that this album might’ve gone too far in the progressive metal direction, that the core appeal of The Spirit was being the sort of accessible alpha-neo ‘The Somberlain‘ kinda gig. In fact yeah, I’d say they’ve come close to overdosing, or, perhaps taking on this bout of change with a bit too much gusto and writing pieces which become unpunctuated vortices of mid-paced exploratory exposition. The full listen quickly becomes an unending captivity, a vexation within a planetarium of their own ingenious design that rarely stops to let ride, breathe and hit a hard ‘heavy metal’ moment long enough to stick. Opener and title track “Of Clarity and Galactic Structures” is the snare set, an immediately conversational introduction without fanfare in exclamation “I withdraw from this world from the tragedy of life, embrace the unknown…” a tirade which finds said titular clarity in escape from the tyranny of man and well, if I were reading a book leading with any similar proclamation I’d have to see where this typically futile gesture ends up landing on the spectrum of spiritual defeat. The result was instead a seven minute typhoon of neatly set melodic ideas, beautifully set contrapuntal guitar leads, and a sort of melodeath bombast which suits Trautes‘ ear for detail and ever-shifting tone by way of malleable atmosphere. Much as I’d wanted to waive this record at face value it’d built a case in pulses of brilliancy from that point on, and I’d no reason not to simply fall right in.

From that point on there isn’t any break offered on the part of the listener beyond the off-putting synth used on experimental closer “Laniakea”, as their approach remains both eventful and of a high standard throughout. There are plenty of highlights but nothing so unexpected beyond the first three or four pieces, which elaborate upon the aforementioned progressive death-lite infused melodic black metal style. In terms of accessibility it is an unusual point to make on my part, preferring the experience of cracking open a lyric sheet myself, but the vocals here are entirely decipherable without any certain stretch of the ear. This helps to characterize certain songs but also leaves the vocals somewhat stone-faced and less expressive than they probably could’ve been to match the spectacle of swerving rhythm featured throughout. At some point, roughly fifteen or so full spins through, I’d found myself oddly annoyed with the lack of notable separation between tracks and the cadence of the vocals, ready to be pulled from the airlock they’d created. Of course in retrospect I’d appreciated just how immersed I’d been for so many runs through the album, it wasn’t an state of ecstasy so much as it’d been an enjoyable spectacle to behold. I’m not sure that’ll be enough to hold up for my own taste in the long run but ‘Of Clarity and Galactic Structures‘ is nonetheless well worth recommending as a very easily enjoyed piece of modern black/death metal guile. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Of Clarity and Galactic Structures
LABEL(S):Art of Propaganda Records
RELEASE DATE:April 29th, 2022

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