THY DARKENED SHADE – Liber Lvcifer II-Mahapralaya (2023)REVIEW

To not only desire but manifest the fatal shroud of darkness upon all knowable existence, the energetic death that’d free all flesh and bodily fires into extinction, is to embrace the current of the great adversary. In doing so Athens, Greece-borne black metal duo Thy Darkened Shade embody the wisdom of the dead as a consciousness enhanced rather than one that’d cultivate superstitious hope, freeing themselves from the strictures of timeliness as the continuum is breached. ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya‘ is a second excerpt from the continuing education these enlightened folks would allow the general public to shine and suffer within per their own worthiness, a great work of black metal which soars in spiritual empowerment rather than scour the usual barrels of enduring psychopomp.

Thy Darkened Shade was formed by Semjaza (Acrimonius, ex-Nadiwrath, Αχέροντας) circa 1999 as a consequence of spiritual development, specifically tapping into a Luciferian current in his twenties with inkling and inspiration from the Temple of the Black Light and Chaos Gnosticism. This pursuit eventually lead to creation of personalized ritual, method and literature surrounding the Order of Promethean Fyre wherein Prometheus and Lucifer are non-essentially differentiated, separate by translation alone. We can at least superficially understand the work of this band as volumes of spells, authorship which reflects the channeled magick resultant of spiritual development which eternally seeks freedom by way of the Left Hand Path which extends into the next life beyond this. In practical terms we can consider the artist’s work meticulously crafted, dramatically stated, and primed with substantive meaning as Thy Darkened Shade reflects influences and standards which occasionally pull from other forms of heavy music in profound ways throughout their discography.

There are few bands where contextual exploration of peripheral projects and past discography presents more than a linear evolution, progress made within expected bounds, yet in this case Thy Darkened Shade reflects overwhelming consideration and action in every case within a consistently high standard of performance and render. There was no formative or unconsidered Self on display to start and I figure this’d been the result of spending time in other projects before recognizing the importance of entirely calculated and meaningful existence as an artist, simply not releasing anything until it’d been well above average. As such, one could dive headfirst into the chaotic, thrashing enthusiasm of ‘Eternvs Mos, Nex Ritvs‘ (2012) and already consider it a work outside of time, or, not a product of its time so much as a perfectionist’s introduction to an unworthy audience. Shortcut comparisons to the best of Abigor and Dødheimsgard made at the time funnel the listener in more-or-less the right level of complex, confrontational and tyrannical presentation of forms with some traditional black metal aspect available yet it won’t suffice to compare Semjaza and crew’s work to others when it neither intends any semblance or tribute.

From that point we find each release reflecting spiritual cadence and expansion of oeuvre, particularly a brilliantly technical aptitude in terms of performances, as a vessel for the determined and inspired Self. ‘Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet‘ (2014) would reflect a further burgeoning individual voice in the realm of occult literacy, a dramatic expansion of vocal performances towards a chorale bolstered event, and notable session drumming from Hannes Grossman just as he’d left Obscura. Because of this we’d find quite a lot of focus set upon the performative aspect of Thy Darkened Shade which is both deserved and arguably misses the point beyond the pursuit of excellence all Luciferian musicians strive for. At this point the listener should absolutely allow themselves to be indoctrinated, mystified, and overwhelmed by ‘Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet‘ not only for the sake of precedence and contrast but to fully understand that these are not fickle “easy” black metal works operating on gimmickry for effect. What we gain from examining past works is that the standard set prior to ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya‘ was ridiculously high and that the album had no chance of appearing from the hands of the artist without meeting and/or exceeding that standard set. It could only have been maddening to take further steps, though perhaps this is where the promethean gift ultimately applies.

Limits were shattered, minds were met over the next several years as a pact of spiritual community meant a split with Abigor, Nightbringer and Mortuus was then followed by a split with Chaos Invocation (‘SAATET – TA APEP‘, 2017) until a long in development third split (‘SamaeLilith: A Conjunction of the Fireborn‘, 2021) would eventually release. It wouldn’t make much sense to skim over the development of the band and their work during this roughly nine year gap in full-length releases since there is close to an LP’s worth of material to appreciate. Yet in the interest of some reasonable brevity we begin to hear more and more guitar techniques cognizant of the ’92-’98 classic black metal vernacular inserting themselves into the elaborately technical and exuberantly voiced menace of Thy Darkened Shade‘s work, typically presented with at least four distinct guitar layers including gorgeously present basslines. My favorite piece from this era is “Cascade of Nun” and perhaps because it does reflect what I’d read as a similar mindset to that of the first full-length, a most arcane yet enlightened black metal piece with appreciable nuance to its dimensional layers. Since there is no exact time of construction given for the material supplied to the four-way split from 2021, I cannot necessarily speak to it as a direct primer for ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya‘ but a perfect example of their declarative voice and the intensely immersive effect of their classic yet fundamentally altered vision of black metal. “Daathian Reveries and Gamaliel Revelations” is still one of the most captivating pieces the artist has managed to date per my own taste.

Charting the black manifestation of the void. — Interrupted by global plague, perturbed by scorched earth, and in the works for years longer than anticipated the realization of ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya‘ being difficult for the artist isn’t inherently ironic though the connection made between between the collapse of environment and sociopolitical constructs causing these interruptions and the (at face value) title of the record is almost clever if taken as prophetic envision. Mahapralaya in Hindu philosophical and theological context suggests a complete cycle of apocalyptic destruction, within a cycle of death and rebirth set to geologic time, which specifically includes the dissolution of not only mundane human realms but those which house the creator gods themselves. A complete cosmological return to the utter dark is a spark in setting up deeper rumination upon temporal cyclic forces explored by many forms of spirituality which the Order of Promethean Fyre translates as the persistent adversarial force of Lucifer carrying its power throughout time. Of course, take my interpretation with a grain of salt as I interpret rather than dictate the gravitas which backs this great work of magisterial black metal.

“Luciftias” not only introduces the expressive, elaborately arc’d bass and rhythm guitar techniques available to Thy Darkened Shade‘s voicing but likewise produces a hypnotic tarantella, brewing a hypnotic foaming shore to set its initial lustrousness atop. Chorales sung from the chest of the devotee emphasize then overtake initial phrases before a rush of pace and sentimental gust builds towards an incredible reprise, injecting King Diamond-esque operatic sway in hymnal vibrato before we’ve punched directly into the battery at hand. As I am one to focus on the solidity of the rhythm section when listening to extreme metal the rhythm section is brilliantly emphasized but not oppressive on this recording, notably giving expansive fish-eye’d breadth to the drum kit up front on the fiery tunneling of “Sacrosanct Pyre” wherein the cymbals are distant enough to not clash with the tonal detailing of the bass guitar’s upper register and the elaborate, run-on arrangements for three guitars which provide primary engagement up front. Think of this as dense yet expressive, voluminous in expanse without a too unrealistic space explored a la ‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk‘ were it stripped of cataclysmic synth. If there is an emotional connection with any one instrument featured it’d certainly be the guitar work but I couldn’t help but marvel at the bass guitar performances provided not only at the outset of ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya‘ but throughout the full listen.

As we step into “Into Eerie Catacombs” and sink into the classicist riffcraft stalking about in several layered accost, it bears mention just how much the bass guitar’s insertions accentuate each movement rather than interrupted or distracted. Around the second verse of the song we begin to see this Maiden-esque treatment in fusion-pulled application which is somehow not buried by the intense chorale and violent battery beneath. Needless to say the textural components of the album, its guitar tones and the collision of all well-considered timbres allowed, is lain in such a way that one looking for details won’t miss an iota of interest yet a listener seeking the larger groove and pulsation of movement available can simply take the ride and appreciate the predatorial serpentine verve of it all. Those first three pieces are already comparatively more aggressive and detailed than the introductory moments of ‘Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet‘ lending a physical, dramatic feeling to the listening experience which does a fine job of communicating the embodiment of devotional practice as well as the fantastic imagery explored on these pieces. What pushes this beyond something above-average and transcendental towards a great work is inarguably the variety of vocal treatments wherein the arrangements, performances, and the variety explored not only individuates each song but pulls us out into the fourteen realms to see the anatomy of cosmos detangling and awash with corruption before rebirth.

“Sathanastasis” should read to most as the peaking spiritual moment upon initial full listens and for good reason, it’s nine and a half minute ascent bristles with light touches of dissonant black metal guitar work in building a mountain of chorale, increasingly ecstatic guitar runs and echoing invocations all of this manage an outsized and memorable thrill. This is perhaps the only time I’ll reference the more involved work of Nightbringer not only for the ‘Nemesis Divina‘-esque infusion of certain guitar runs but for the sake of very few bands being this capable of presenting a reasonably longform, completely rounded piece which does not waste a moment of the listeners attention paid. Granted, the Quorthonian high available to “Qelippot Epiphany” offers an equally viable choice for a true dramatic peak within the full listen, especially as we consider its equally (per “Sathanastasis”) expressive and triumphal apices in reach of the mid-point of this ~62 minute double LP. The tone of sojourn-earned resolve, a realization felt in hymnal gloria, may very well be the best point for the listener to take a break and reflect upon the already stunning amount of action available to the album thus far. It is work risking the edge of momentum drifting upon initial descent, taking a moment for a few deep breaths might help to push the concerted yet weary traveler through this very involved full hour and its overflowing consciousness. I suggest this because it is well worth acknowledging this listening experience as one which steps beyond the usual bluster, a sensation which enriches but also taxes the psyche.

We step upon a ruthless pace and path as “Acausal Current of Thanatos” fires off, another piece dominated by a particularly involved twist upon classicist structures first explored in the mid-90’s and expanded in various movements since. There is a chaotic, tumultuous abruptness to this piece which’d been immediately engaging on my part and I think best suits the vast and tragedian image of the cover artwork, which is once again by way of Vamperess Imperium. Naturally I’d figured that fiery start-up would speak to a second chapter opening with violent fanfare but in fact “Veneration for the Fireborn King” blasts away unholy at another riff-driven, unnerving bolt-paced black metal piece which does anything but relax the tone of the listen. This’d been a crucially steeling moment per my own experience, wherein I admired the grip upon the moment and the momentum upheld even as the focused remained upon the magnitude of the rhythm guitar work at hand. There’ll be little more than a breath taken until the very end of “Noxious Witchery of the Titans”, pulling us back into the ouroboric effect of the full listen after nearly nineteen minutes of shocked-out aggression with closer “Typhonian Temple”. The key bass guitar voicing returns in full and the send-off back toward rebirth is less painful for being at least somewhat floating back to the beginning. Needless to say even an hourlong record can play beautifully on repeat if there is enough interest and reasonable pacing, as is evidenced herein.

In hindsight, reflecting upon the listening experience in regular intervals left me with some greater fealty to the bombast which feeds the opening moments of ‘Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya‘ before ultimately glowing within the middle portion of the album. It wasn’t until later on in the discovery phase that I’d began making a point to pick through the rhythmic innards of the sixth through eighth songs for their detail and this’d turned out to be worthwhile. Without a lyric sheet the experience is missing my own most personal interpretations, that sacred meaning gained between the invested black metal listener and the prose provided which eludes so many, and as such there is no one hundred percent complete verdict available beyond some strong compulsion to dig into every word for insight to the artist’s revelations. Beyond that point it’d be impossible to argue against the substantive value of what Thy Darkened Shade have produced here as a personal spiritual statement in the true spirit of black metal, lending much more than defiant aggression to their craft. Without hyperbole intended, the standard achieved herein is incredible and above all else memorable within its theatric spectacle throughout. Temper your expectations with context, as always, but I’d walked away from this release eager to return to it, appreciating this new echelon of expression and capability achieved by the artist to no end. It sets a ghastly, ominous tone of rupture and decay upon anno MMXXIII. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (95/100)

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Liber Lvcifer II: Mahapralaya
LABEL(S):W.T.C. Productions
RELEASE DATE:January 10th, 2023

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.