The bell rings and a low knock is heard… — What many spend years channeling, waking into as they slowly peel themselves away from normative mental adaptation a band like Spirit Possession duck into as if by instinct in creation of a horrified pseudo-arcane black metal pulse, a knack that is distinct in its referential girding but also by way of its performative panache. The finesse with which they attack the very atmosphere that surrounds them is terrifying within earshot as we find the second full-length album from this Portland, Oregon-based duo does just that, ringing loud in bloodiest accost yet as their own version of black/heavy metal reappears in galloping step. Driven by demons as much as it is knuckle-cracking left hand technique ‘Of the Sign…‘ is truly a second chapter and as such it uses some level of expectation built to impress with adept variation presented within the same general language. By some marvel or magick they’ve managed to successfully continue the still thrashing-mad conversation down a fresh corridor rather than produce a record which flatly compares with what’d already been conjured.
Spirit Possession formed circa 2019 between guitarist/vocalist S. Peacock (Ulthar, et al.) and Vouna live drummer A. Spungin (ex-Insect Ark) assumedly to try their hand at the new thought on ‘old school’ black metal or the proverbial first wave before the carnal metalpunk theatrics and noisome speed metallic obeisance had been gutted from the craft. They’ve made very little distance between their first demo tape (‘2020 Demo‘, 2020) and today in terms of modus with a sound generated by design and distinct repetition of a few impressive guitar techniques and unpredictable rhythmic currents. It’d been immediately popular in January of that fated year and their self-titled full-length (‘Spirit Possession‘, 2020) was ready as Hell just seven months later. These two recordings had no practical distance between them beyond the actual rendering/production values and each of the two main songs featured on the demo were distinct highlights on the full-length. Though I’d briefly praised that first album in a news column it wasn’t provided for review and I’d never put my two cents together in tribute. It was an exciting release and one that I’d taken some time to consider causation for as its adept, physical and noisome construct being so supercharged. Well, in simplest terms Peacock‘s finesse as a guitar player is magick (see: “Spirit Possession”) compared to a lot of brute-forced performers in the sub-genre’s public headspace but beyond that fact that debut sourced its appeal from the most ancient electricity available to the sub-genre, dressing it up with practical effects enough to stoke a reaction from even the most tired-ass ears.
The way that this band fills perceived space with noisome insanity has deep precedence with the most primal point of evolution in black metal, or extreme metal for that matter, and the gist of it is giving the listener the sensation of reckless abandon, driving a bit too fast and not giving a fuck, alongside some manner of possessed inspiration which speaks in commune with the extreme personalities heavy metal produced when it was still plausible sub-culture rather than today’s pop cultural artifice. If one could see the true edict of ‘Of the Sign…‘ through the blood smeared mural on black-splattered glass that enrobes it it’d be a museum grade curation of the exciting simplicity of the craft, an almost necessarily cartoonish representation of black metal impetus for a modern audience who’ll be lucky if they do decide to approach Spirit Possession for their details and not just the incredible spectacle of their actions.
The original thrill of thrash/speed metal in combination with black metal aesthetics is best remembered as an unruly modifier wherein the spastic, wild spirit provided by a return to the origins of speed metal still proved an ideal source of classic heavy metal songwriting. The unhinged energy of early extreme metal was worn proudly in its heyday and… since at least 1995 the echoes, fumes of those energies continue to merely suffice beyond their perfection in the hands of groups like Absu, who brough sense and structure before reinserting maniac abandon within a still technical lexicon later on. Said echoes are still loud enough to reverberate the flesh beyond the core evolution of the ‘black metal’ as a concept beyond Norwegian totalism, a zeitgeist distorted by the perceived fiefdom throughout the 90’s, leading generalist references towards the Darkthrone-adjacent spiritus and “ahead of their time” fission of Aura Noir who’d leaned away from the developing austerity of the mid-decade back to the uncanny insanity of the old ways. If you can accept this sarcastic, quasi-historic point of view thus far, then hurriedly join me in the post-millennium wherein Negative Plane brought atmospheric sound design (read: demo-level room noise simulation in extremis) alongside truly evolved guitar technique back into the fold for a certain underground sector and somewhere in the fog of it all lies the precedence, the seedling for the excitable live-wired mania available of Spirit Possession‘s faux-ancient black metal style. Yes, that is a very long way to simply say “Hey, sounds like a more rockin’ version of that one band“, but that’d be less enriching, superficial and false as we consider their growing discography.
Steve Peacock‘s overall approach to black metal has been unique for the sake of his focus on performance, be it improvisational or otherwise, manifesting as an outpouring of physical tics depending on the project (see: Mastery, Pandiscordian Necrogenesis) and his guitar/vocal work in Spirit Possession reflects this unhinged spirit in more contained directive, guided by the core ruleset of “first wave” inspired black/heavy metal’s dread-charged atmosphere and stampede pacing. This sets this band’s sound distinctly apart from the groups they are most commonly compared with, such as Funereal Presence who are the most important Negative Plane offshoot (literally and spiritually) to find their own distinction rooted in first wave black/speed metal as longform epic medium and we could similarly look to the second Malokarpatan record briefly for frantic but differently interpretive and leagues more composed works rooted squarely in heavy metal. We only seem to stray from this point until we sidle up to the atmospheric black metal-minded Predatory Light whose muscle memory for loftier heights overrides the speed/heavy metal elements for something slightly more modern, if not still conscious of modern revisionist standards for heavy metal songwriting. Each of the groups/albums mentioned feature guitarists who have developed fairly rich guitar vernacular over the course of their discography wherein we find ‘Of the Sign…‘ iterating on their own modus with great emphasis on repetitive guitar technique and use of effects to amplify their finger-burning trill-obsessed riff runs. This second record presents a set of freshened variations on their frantic and erratically arranged work but makes no conscious effort to bend or fray the flow of ideas beyond wherever they might naturally haunt.
What is new this time around? I’d found Peacock‘s trill-heavy riffcraft coming into better focus, favorably manifesting riffs and runs which are heavy metal more often than anything readably ‘black n’ roll‘ in statement, slight as the distinction might be for some. We also find Spungin utilizing her own bespoke synthesizers (per Ormus Electronics) on a few of the pieces here and there, nothing beyond eerie presence in segue but still a nice touch I hope they expand beyond liminal respite. Otherwise you’d really have to sit down and do a riff count on ‘Spirit Possession‘ in direct comparison to start hearing more structured phrasing, meatier variations found within the now slightly more memorable songs as they achieve less of a panic this time around. “Orthodox Weapons” acts as the signature piece up front with plenty of staggered speed metal energy jutting across the fretboard inherent to the finesse of Peacock‘s guitar work and this thread continues consistently through the first six or so pieces. The loudest observation upon first impression on my part was that this is a more neatly composed set of songs but that might be a symptom of dialing back some of the guitar noise found on the debut. Everything has a bit harder outline this time around and it helps keep the experience as orderly as possible, even if the level of distinction between songs still becomes a blur when listening to the record on repeat and following the action intently.
The real death vortex, the dead zone where it all collapses into something more interesting than purely spectacular nausea comes with the pairing of “Hierarchical Skin” and “Enter the Golden Sign” both of which are deeply set in the boot-heel of Side B. The former builds from a seemingly improvised riff towards the technically dizzied reaches of ‘Aura Noire‘ and its “last word” on black/thrash while reaching a series of more atmospherically inclined conclusions throughout the song, aiming to build a groove from trilled-at power chords which lands as a stalling engine in the best way possible before the second half rides back in. “Enter the Golden Sign” certainly seems much bigger than its statement is per the nine and a half minute run of it all but this is the point on the album where you should know it’s language well and savor in this ‘epic’ they strangle out at a jogging metalpunk pace in conclusion, a big moment which is brilliantly set next just beyond the strong peak of “Hierarchical Skin” as the major build-up and comedown of the second half. Though I am not sure the energy holds up in the same way for the entire listen this time around the “brain” of the experience kicks in and ensures there is at least a bit of substance beneath the riled-up wrack of it all.
It isn’t a major step beyond their debut but Spirit Possession do ultimately achieve a solidifying statement as to what they are and why this is something different in the crowded black metal hellscape with ‘Of the Sign…‘. Theirs is yet an explosive sound which is still beyond likely to pull many an ear towards its warbling necro-thrashing by sheer instinct alone and, again, if you’re prone to pick away at the details these folks still have their maze-mapping skills entirely intact enough to keep the prying ear chasing around every bend for many listens. A high recommendation.
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