Gibst du dem Teufel deinen kleinen finger, nimmt er deine ganze hand.” And what more then, do we really have to lose beyond the “soul” when traded away? Bewitchment, least ’til it becomes real and unavoidable, strikes none possessing well-tended moderne senses with any real fear, all manner and mode of the devil’s captivity is nowadays delightful perversion compared to such a bored, dull-witted era of self-effacing sentience. Just as death isn’t at all a frightening thought to the ‘ready trauma toughened and/or reaper-scraped so will the threatened void of the soul departed appear as a fairytale gesture of auld superstition until it is gone, or, were it never particularly activated with any such inspiration. — The aether-marrow of motivation and wonder sucked away from the flesh by the horned and irascible may very well be the fuel intended for the dramatist alone! The tragedy of haplessness isn’t all that difficult to self-impose, not for the listless scholars we, merely taking stock of existential thought light years beyond the nineteenth century notion of the soul is drying enough but to the obsessive artiste, they whom have long tendered and tempered their runaway thoughts with the too fast-beating heart of creation directing, the devil’s trickery is a timeless romanticist foil worthy of tragedian dread shared hungrily amongst the still-feeling. Take the whole hand then, the left one, and be done with it.

Without purpose sought with crippling diligence, whom could’ve known they were mentally starving under the Faunus‘ spell? Seated with a lukewarm cup of dried caps and offal tea, wafting uneasily above the fungal smell throughout our quarters in the lazing light at end of the evening you’d never have known, or, remembered when the possession had set in and that it would prove generational, a curse. The literary, experiential sequence of parable presented in roughly six major arcs (“chapters”) of thee exploratory ‘The Pact…‘, a third and ghastly devotional full-length from New York City-based black metal auteurs Negative Plane, is the very contre-spell cast to lift the daimonian hand from thy shoulder and spill a decade long built madness streaming from the upturned and smoking skull so long distended. Agape and with darting eyes we can now, after some brief yet invasive conjure within countless rotations, identify this as not only the catalytic breaker of the flayer’s grasp upon the mind but a great work twined, whirled and pulled from the soul and the ‘self’ of the artist freeing themselves from the confines of existential barrier, and the Gods’ grasping hands.

Inspired by both pre and post-Goethe treatments of Doctor Faustus, an important great work (stage play) for early German literature, alongside similar folk interpretations of ‘deals with the devil‘ applied to fabled real life events guitarist/vocalist Nameless Void (ex-After Death, ex-Occultation) narrates this set of idiosyncratic thrashing black metal pieces as a sort of occult vaudevillian exaggeration far beyond that of ye olde “At War With Satan” heavy rock grandstanding. Negative Plane‘s treatment of these personally interpreted folklore(s) roots them in real spaces, historical settings which are yet extant, and I’d venture that this inspiration doesn’t appear to have been possible without various trips to Freiburg and Leipzig, among other places. Earning a specific narrative characterization by way of experiential research and experienced places surely increases the chances of fine work by sheer effort and patient methods alone. Yet as ‘The Pact…‘ unravels and this wicked six-chaptered tragedy reveals its relatively pristine hour run and novella’s worth of intrigue within, the suggestion is clear that our protagonists merely needed the right motivation, a purposeful and evocative reason to present these long-developed and exceedingly fine pieces. The result is a work which naturally transcends the borders of black metal, evil speed metal, and pure heavy metal in most unholy example, providing constant and finesse-slung reminder that no matter how clever you are, the devil always has the upper hand.

Right, so does any of that have much to do with Negative Plane‘s two previous albums, and… they still got riffs for miles? When they’d achieved the most crucial collaborative duo of Nameless Void and Bestial Devotion (Funereal Presence) circa 2002 or thereabouts the band’s style was still fraught with the primally thrashing brutality of Mortuary Drape and the exaggerative, hallucinatory motions of groups like Ved Buens Ende (see: ‘Surreality‘, 2002) making for a spectacle of inordinately skilled hands applied to horrified, avant-garde occult black metal terror as they released their second tape ‘Promo 2004’, a complete trip with a menacing, already signature sound and songs that’d only deepen in character when they were included on their first full-length ‘Et In Saecula Saeculorum‘ (2006). It’d been a revelation at the time, appealing to me as as a fan of the slower almost Hellenic style pieces (“Unhallowed Ground”) and the sense of eerie Italian doom or, gothic horror venturing it’d stunk of, steeped in raw tones and intoxicating levels of reverb. So, the answer is first and foremost a confirmation that Negative Plane still exist within a realm of those cult classic black metal spaces yet much has changed since the mid-to-late 2000’s.

Whereas ‘Stained Glass Revelations‘ (2011) achieved a new highest standard with their far more chasmic and imposing tracklist the on-record arrival of Bestial Devotion‘s Funereal Presence likewise brought a lot more listeners to their realm, the drummer having built a natural extension of lessons learned in Negative Plane into an elite personification of ‘epic’ pieces that’ve become more enthralling with each listen. For many fans of black metal and, I suppose avant-garde, occult, and the generally psychedelia bent feeling of the new decade there were few other bands bearing such an influential yet untouchable standard for black metal in the United States at the time. That said, of course the muddiness of the all-in reverb arguably muddled the musical merits of that album by public decree, this never bothered me and in fact it created a great deal of mystic space between the lyrics and the incredible guitar work on display, “All Souls” still haunts me to this day as the sort of piece that makes you want to pick up a guitar and do something weird.

The capture of ‘The Pact…‘ is comparatively free of additive reverb beyond an implication of a rectangular space with high ceilings, similar to that of ‘Achatius‘ a few years back but with more definition given to the cymbal work, an ancient bass guitar tone that sits at the hip, and very little clashing of the various guitar tracks. The vocals however manage to bear about a three foot sine wave of reverb echoing forward following each statement, sometimes every word, as if spoken through an oaken bullhorn the size of a truck. The narrative is yet clear and directive whenever the pulpit is approached. Nameless Void‘s performances are not exactly Tony Dolan on ‘Prime Evil‘ but not far either in terms of black/heavy metal diction and this suits Negative Plane‘s admirably technical feats here, much of it somewhat bogglingly braided in place, needled over for the sake of achieving a performative sort of speed metal impact yet with the thorny gloom and maniac grin of black metal maintaining an extremist standard.

Guitar arrangements are challenging for the sake of technical flair serving worlds within worlds rather than flash when focused upon in tangential fractalization, a not at all unusual thread that presents a fox to chase most often but one that is yet capable of self-inversion back to narrative format whenever called for. Many of these songs, such as “Three Turns to the West” root their major statements in chorus but in the twisted sort of way that early Celtic Frost or Sabbat (alternately, early Bifrost) might’ve, even if Negative Plane are nowhere near as succinct and aren’t rebelling against the deliberate step of traditional heavy metal in such a bluntly stated way, their purpose is built around each tale told in a similar fashion. That isn’t to say that Nameless Void‘s unique use of guitar technique is understated at all as we dig into various examples of finesse without cornball guitar hero cliché applied, starting with “Poison and the Crucifix” around ~6:54 minutes wherein this simple wriggling of the hands achieves a sort of black metal noise guitar stroke of genius, one that warrants repeat listening as the song begins to signal its winding down. From there the standouts are clearly set between the acrobatic, masterfully wielded and aforementioned “Three Turns to the West” and arguably the most signature Negative Plane piece of the full listen Side C‘s “Even the Devil Goes to Church” echoes the sense of constantly shifting movement by way of quick-change riffs found on ‘Et In Saecula Saeculorum’ to some degree. Anyhow, it took a while to get there but yes, there is strong precedence for what ‘The Pact…‘ delivers in terms of style and yes, this band still has riffs — perhaps some of the best black metal guitar work we’ll hear this year.

I’ve more-or-less bumbled along in description of the album’s sound, style and presentation for the sake of not fully unveiling the connection, a lineage of sorts shared between all of songs and each of which are given context within the extensive booklet included with the double LP, or, all formats for that matter. This is one of many extra layers available to ‘The Pact…‘ as it is pawed and fawned over as an elite item, a notable release far beyond the norm, a memorable piece of occult audio-visual fiction and a sort of ‘next level’ arcane black metal album with a great deal of consideration, work and passion going into every element. Because of this it’d be best if the reader took the plunge and took the enriching act of discovery upon themselves. I am entirely enamored with this record but of course my bias can be noted at this point as a fan since 2007 or so, owning their discography and most related projects yet that doesn’t distract from Negative Plane‘s third album being of a magnitude well-worthy of a decade long wait and anything but a casual, ‘easy’ or half-assed black metal record circa 2022. They’ve taken so many fine acts down a peg on the ladder with this one that I cannot help but give it a highest possible recommendation.

Highest possible recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
TITLE:The Pact…
LABEL(S):Invictus Productions,
The Ajna Offensive
RELEASE DATE:April 30th, 2022

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