Propitiatory sacrifice made to the wealds of the cosmos must first be burnt, carbonized in part to imbue the very atmosphere with their offering before being cut to pieces. One piece should be buried to satiate the underworld, another should be cast into the river to soothe the temperamental water deities, and last comes the feast of joyful energy, that which could only hope to reach the celestial gods. Without gods to serve, without deities willing to take pittances from we soon extinct dregs of the original human notion, our sacrificial communion does not rend flesh or make merry but craft insularly summoned astral bridges to the very aether above, one soul-draining thread at a time. Treviso, Italy-based black metal quartet Thysia are leagues ahead of most as scholars of the dark art of these singular constructs, strangely woven architecture built on upwards-resonant striking at meaning, which surely amounts to mayhem when staring downward. Their debut full-length album, ‘Islands in Cosmic Darkness‘, is exactingly invoked by its name as a record which strings together each piece with a satisfyingly ominous tension, paddling with great intensity in front of waves which connect each point of presentation with knotted and probing riffcraft. On each suggested island they meditate upon what took them there, a fresh dock constructed to commemorate their ongoing journey before they press on to the next, making sure not to forget where they’d been while keeping the one major current ever-alive in mind.
Thysia formed circa 2019 by way of Nefasto (Assumption, Bottomless) who’d initially served as the vocalist and guitarist until Fenrir of Nox Interitus took over on vocals in 2021. Most of the other band members can be figured as members of related projects with Mistyr (Messa) on drums and Nihil on bass but we shouldn’t necessarily relate the style of their other black metal and doom metal projects as any direct indication of their combined approach. It seems the conception of the band was, well, of course built upon Nefasto‘s riffs to start as they’ve referenced primal acts such as Hellhammer by way of Tangorodrim (Israel) as well as the early crawl of Varathron and Rotting Christ and how these ideas translate to Negative Plane and Cultes des Ghoules in a natural way. The obvious point brewing is that this is a band who value the riff not only for its physical bludgeon in reference to the nascent black metal urge but especially for its atmospheric qualities. If there is a proper descriptor for ‘Islands in Cosmic Darkness‘ it’d have to be flexibly atmospheric, a reflexive exploration of the riff in fluid yet directive thread as it pertains to their own depth perception for gnarled scenery.
In most ways ‘Islands in Cosmic Darkness‘ is a single-edged blade, it drives in linear fashion through a fully logical conversational feat and whenever the listener pulls back at any point it leaves a bit of a tear, or, a stutter in the wound. Each song flows from one to the next in similarly communicated mindset, intent on tunneling towards meaning with purposeful yet adventurous phrases one after another. Exaggerated riffs in long-stranded composition present multi-tiered arguments with a mind for progressive rock-built rhythms which are by point of purpose applied to a rushing-and-reeling doom meets speed metallic pathos. This makes for a floaty, meandering feeling despite the very contained and sharply performed nature of these compositions. In this sense this is a primordially envisioned black metal album by intent but perhaps not limited to entirely typical transgression.
The hastily scribbled pen that leads the charge into “Psallo” quickly steadies, first into the main verse riff as an early point of climax and then on to court a doomed mid-paced section. Though it takes some necessary repetition and a few minutes to percolate in mind the greater atmospheric value of this album is notably impressed upon the attentive listener essentially within this first piece, albeit more of a conversation starter than a full-bodied strike upon personae but a piece with a few very important details. Eerie but not entirely outlandish in their choice of phrase it is clear what Thysia are “going for” up front though they’ve modulated their own bustling pace to a rollicking tarry and set their voicing to not so directly resemble each implied influence. The waters are appropriate dark but this is a record of wonderment, searching on rather than stifled nihilism at least from my point of view.
“Scorched Bronze Earth” is more or less driven by the same type of groove and shambling draught of spirit that’d made up the skeleton of the more involved parts of ‘A Blaze in the Northern Sky‘ but in this band’s hands it turns to a progressive rock exercise of forms wherein the creep of its core guitar rhythms strafe and escape the stride of the droning blast of the drums ’til the ride arrives ~2:35 minutes in. The effect is not that far from where records like ‘Stained Glass Revelations‘ and even ‘Sweven‘ took us in the early 2010’s in terms of exaggerated, escalating rhythmic delve. Of the first three pieces on ‘Islands in Cosmic Darkness’ this is the least important in some respects but it does a fine job of maintaining the momentum of those opening moments and keeps the torch lit. “Phrenes” was, for my own taste, the first piece to stop testing the waters and fully plunge into something impressive with dual-voiced rhythm guitar performances which strain in and out of pace for the sake of swerving emphasis between notes while the basslines follow in conserved theme. This is more-or-less where we begin to land upon a plateau of brighter ideas which reach beyond those initial couple of clever arrangements which convey an estranged feeling towards the more involved spectrum of their major idea.
The real breakthrough on this album comes somewhere in the realm of reveal “Nexus of Cataclysmic Forces” brings, carrying a rolling Bathory-esque swing to its opening rhythms as Thysia‘s consistent guitar focused voicing quickly builds the momentum of its groove into the more insistent crash of its last third. This makes for a punctuative moment mid-album which signals the transition to its second half in a practical sense, injecting some coloration into the middle of the experience. The captivity, general containment of tension that’d been slowly hissing open on the first three songs has now been released so that the band can brew and boil within a more intense state.
“Communicating Halls of the Netherworld” chases after the shadows which its eerie luminance creates on the cave walls, searching for the eyes it’d misplaced in a way which is characteristic of the full listening experience. Er, in more practical terms it feels like the song that’d set the major standard which each other piece had to live up to, the tabula nigrum set, wherein this searching motion reaches its ranting but still dynamic point of entity. The guitarist toes many knots along the way in exploration of a riff idea, not so much to keep from getting lost but a handhold to brace further modulation from; Consistency of quality matters most when it comes to ideas, especially in black metal where performance and render are only effective when deeply personalized, in this case there is a chthonic and/or serpentine quality to these pieces which is beautifully consistent and should create satisfying tunnel vision for folks prone to a “laid back yet extreme” experience. Even if this doesn’t need to occur readably in lights for the listener to inspire them the act of landing upon a song like this is purely enjoyable for its tension, a penchant for cleverly set transitional moments, and the gloomy captivity of a song which braids itself before the listener in a sort of dance, a tarantella which of course pulls its rhythmic aptitudes and general mechanism from precedence in atmospheric yet classic black metal forms.
As the mysteries of Side B unravel we can more seriously consider Thysia‘s guitarists work influenced by Negative Plane alongside the other acts mentioned prior but also acknowledge the feeling as tangentially replicable but the original only potentially approximated as a jumping off point. This is perhaps most clear on “Spiritual Desert”, not that other songs hadn’t the right atmospheric touch and unique lilt to their stride but that this one in particular song features a clever wrangling of the guitar which speaks to that level of technique being utilized to generate a memorable, catchy moment most likely to stick in mind. Even if it isn’t the grand climax of an album which spends most of its time drifting in the sullen dark of the unknown “Spiritual Desert” is an important piece of an implied grand finale which should find more invested listeners reaching their peaking point of interest between those guitar techniques and the more Celtic Frost inspired riffs of the title track (“Islands in Cosmic Darkness”) which’d only caught on intermittently before that point. It makes for satisfying closure which isn’t all that “grand” in scope but lands well-stated as the finishing touch in their greater exploration.
The full listen here shouldn’t feasibly strike the ear as pure derivation once the listener has put in a bit of research into each available reference but it doesn’t hurt that there are signifiers for influences that line up well with my own taste in black metal between the arcane, the fluid-yet-riff based, and the eternally searching soul. Though we can certainly wander through these woods applying one “feeling” to another known quantity in a vague sense here a bit of familiarity for the nuances of the album goes a long way towards appreciating the atmosphere created and the current that Thysia can reasonably call their own at this early stage in their lifespan. They’ve made their own space here with a bit of readable inspiration from other fine acts at their backs, sure, but what’d impressed me much more than the notion that this was any one recognizable type of black metal record was the effect of listening to its endless stairways of riff and appreciating the expanse depicted, the modulation of pace and the greater emergence from the cave it represents in motion. It is a trip I’m happy to take a hundred times more at this point, having greatly enjoyed steeping in its eerie black glow for several weeks. A high recommendation.
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