At some point it’d appeared out of the thin air in front of me, familiar in name with sigil aglow and intriguing facing enough that its presence read patient, non-confrontational yet dark in purpose — A knowing entity infused with spiritual intent, or, a shoulder burning daimonian grip difficult to miss. I’ve still no clue or inkling as to where it came from and… of course I’d turned away from this thing that’d appeared in front of me without warning and chose not to look, not to listen to its side-eyed non-beckoning state. It became a horror in mind as the nag of curiosity began to define this dark space of avoidance with its fill of wonder, thoughts that’d occupied the back of my mind and slowly became a muse, an exaggeration of reality. At the very last point of tendency, a wont to engage with this very deep and glass-eyed persistence imagined and drink in its dark font of horrors, the gaze was finally had and a reality less than half as romantic as the fictive presence were revealed. Landing back upon the soil and knowing its downward digested churn of all matter intimately after avoiding ones nature for the sake of transcending away from the shit-heap simian reality of mankind doesn’t have to mean one’s imagined wings’ve been necessarily clipped, only that the dirt of it might hold more meaning if approached with as much wonderment as the unknowable. In this sense Cyprus-borne and England tied atmospheric black metal project Tome of the Unreplenished now turn away from the infinite sea above and fall back to scorched and storming Earth for this second full-length album. ‘Earthbound‘ is in many ways a step away from the unreal possibilities of ambition and instead a dance of grounded, steeled personage putting in the work, crafting artful wares representative of the ‘self’ rather than presenting a boat which could never sail.

Tome of the Unreplenished began as (and still primarily is) a solo project manifested circa 2012 by way of Cypriot musician Hermes (Kafros Lord, Voz Nenhum) whom has collaborated with various British and Greek black metal artists over the years but hasn’t limited the style of this main project to any one thing beyond some assumed black metal adjacency. The artist introduced this project with a primarily instrumental self-titled EP (‘Tome of the Unreplenished‘, 2013) to start and though it didn’t capture my imagination in the slightest at the time it did indicate his ability to shape sentimental atmospheric black metal melodies by way of guitar, a trait which is still readable as the rhythmic voicing of the band to this day though the ensuing debut full-length (‘Innerstanding‘, 2015) would develop that sound into a full-fledged experience. The way I’ve chosen to view this progression of capability is one which’d first recognized a personal emotional connection to black metal guitar work and then applied a sort of academic/intellectual meaning to that work as it evolved from loose shaping of ideas into pieces of a larger homebrewed concept album. This also meant extended keyboard interludes would lead many folks to describe the album as “space ambient” adjacent with its atmospheric black purpose, perhaps because it was seen in glom with groups like Mare Cognitum, Spectral Lore and their ilk/labelmates. This is essentially the point of interest where we can identify most of the structural properties of Tome of the Unreplenished but this lends a notion of persistent artistic voice rather than the implementation of it, and in this case ‘Earthbound‘ is decidedly different from what came before it but is clearly from the same artist.

It won’t do the listener any real service to go into detail on the Cosmoprism: The Theurgy – Act I‘ (2017) EP or Tome of the Unreplenished‘s split with Starless Domain (‘Epistolary of the Fall‘, 2019) unless you have some vested interest in dark ambient, black ambient, and generally caustic forms of experimental noise which intends an atmospheric mind palace similar to that of black metal. ‘Earthbound‘ isn’t reflective of that aspect of the artist’s work but those two releases do say a lot about Hermes‘ unwillingness to be beholden to expectations. Besides, that sort of thing isn’t such an uncommon thing to explore outside of mainline sub-genre nodes and hasn’t been since ‘Vi Sonus Veris Nigrae Malitiaes‘ at the very least.

With this second Tome of the Unreplenished full-length Hermes‘ efforts evolve outside of the vaguely defined spatial realm of ‘Innerstanding‘, stepping away from the ‘bedroom’ built exaggeration of atmospheric black metal headspace on that first LP in presentation of a record which is only vaguely related by way of certain ingrained tics of his rhythm guitar arrangements. Spun from a differently woolen cloud into golden thread ‘Earthbound‘ notably taps into the absolute wealth of skill which a new quartet line-up presents, now featuring a decidedly oaken ‘epic’ black metal experience which bears the striding meter of folk and/or paganistic black metal. This’ll be less of a surprise once we’ve taken stock of this line-up, which includes the current folks responsible for Macabre Omen on hand alongside folks whom you’ll recognize from some of England’s best (Lychgate, Code, Binah) though this record shouldn’t be considered progressive, death metal influenced or particularly modernist in any sense.

In fact it’ll make sense for fans of the more atmospheric and mythologically obsessed side of Hellenic black metal to be the interested agents for this record, moreso the Nocternity and Kawir side of things minus the aggressive pacing that’d naturally imply otherwise. All things considered it is a record which should prove most worthwhile to the natural intersection upheld between both U.K. black metal naturalism, the introspective side of paganistic Hellenic black metal, and a lurking shade of Quorthonian choral vamp to tie it all together. If you enjoy the first Hades (Norway) record, Winterfylleth, and Macabre Omen themselves there’ll definitely be something in here for you. Opener “Tellurian” readily reveals this element of chorus, which almost assuredly comes via Alexandros, as the guiding portion of a larger, extremely patient melodic arc which floats above the entirety of the piece before it fully resolves. Whereas ‘Innerstanding‘ largely presented one or two guitars as its centrifugal point of performance most of ‘Earthbound‘ manages to simplify these rhythmic statements while presenting at least three or four distinguishable layers of guitar which work to build the intricacies of their interplay outside of the direct action of the song. This allows the arrangements to blend into their revelation as each song moves steadily forward.

If that’d all read as nonsense to you it is my way of insinuating that there is some depth to the construction of these elaborate pieces which still allows each song to read as heroically cinematic and fittingly simple in their core movement and despite the layering available. This helps many of the longer and more repetitive pieces on the full listen, such as “Unbound”, to feel half as long, and not detract from the vocal work as an important directive for the full listen. In this way Side A basks in the sun, sweating away as it piles aboard their ship, buildering up a mythic beckoning to sea which finally arrives on Side B with “Toward the Self”. For my own taste the long march of the record toward the narrative apex this song brings is vital to the greater progression of the full listen sticking in mind, where the anticipation and reward becomes exponential as we breach Side B and the heft and heart of the full listen are exposed as compositions become more dense in statement yet no less grand in their farseeing scale. The glorious, well-earned peak of our journey is of course the 11+ minute “Astraios Ayr” and this serves as one great big shot of fluidic black metal intensity which you won’t find elsewhere on the album, at least until it fades into a keyboard/synth lead exodus. The one real point of detraction on my part is that this leads us into a quite long keyboard and drums lead endpoint to the tune of over nine minutes. While this does present some cinematic value in our imagining a great door to the house of the gods breached it would likely end up ensuring that I’d tend to duck out after just one listen rather than leave ‘Earthbound‘ on repeat.

As a fan of Macabre Omen (and most anything remotely similar) who’d been recommended this record primarily for that fact, I would say that I’d found every part of the listening experience here a pleasure apart from the endpoint. The greater statement of ‘Earthbound‘ leaves me a bit dry-mouthed for the sake of finding the final twenty-or-so minutes of the album to contain both peak inspiration and a somewhat dull march into the sunset, which’d left me wanting something more. Though I’d gone back and forth on this one for some months I’d eventually rest my head on enjoying the full listen in moderation, it is an enjoyable ‘breath of fresh air’ sort of atmospheric black metal record which reward within each listen, and likewise a record that promises to be worth exploring more in the future for its internalized meaning and somewhat meditative tonality. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Avantgarde Music
RELEASE DATE:April 8th, 2022

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