Within their growing examination of what drives human beings to extreme lengths in order to secure meaning, Soutomaior, Galicia-based black metal quartet Balmog return for a sequel, a second chapter in their exploration of the mystic mind and its motivations. Acknowledging the instinctual taste for forbidden, divine and elusive knowledge ‘Covenants of Salt‘ rebuilds the conditions of a heralded past work as they themselves with expanding upon the conversation within this sequel without losing any of the magick inherent. The erroneous extension of the self, the ascetic tribulation of the devout and the undying spark of wonder in the curious mind all fuel the pensive characterization of this especially fine recording which does an excellent job of bridging the gap with an equally profound but somewhat differently stated vision.
At this point I’ve written about Balmog‘s last two major releases at length and with some considerable praise in hand as they’ve quickly become one of my favorite groups from the rich Spanish black metal worldview per a bold, esoteric approach to occult black metal with varietal inspiration fueling their ominous, death-transcendental vision. Though I was familiar with (‘Vacvvm‘, 2018) and some related acts prior it wasn’t until I’d heard ‘Pillars of Salt‘ (2020) that I’d appreciated the build up towards the paradigmatic shift that release had been. That record blew my mind with its sight beyond orthodox black metal when reviewing it, eventually landing it at #28 on my Best 100 of 2020. That record, with its single ~19 minute longform piece opened some new doors for the band which’d lead to their latest LP (‘Eve‘, 2022) being a bit of a breakthrough for their main discography, and a great album for my own taste upon review, landing it at #18 on my Best 75 of 2022. Each of those previous reviews detail the history of the band in some length, so I will side-step any pure redundance beyond the similarly high praise I have for this release. The important information to cache here today is that ‘Covenants of Salt‘ seeks to continue to the philosophical thread and musical exploration of ‘Pillars of Salt‘ directly, acting as a separate but related conversation presented on ‘Eve‘.
The level of difficulty is high up front here in the sense that recreating the sound, presence, visual curation, and unique voice of a previous exalted state would prove challenging enough but living up to the compositional allure and sonic personalities available to ‘Pillars of Salt‘ is even more of an ask. In that sense they’ve brought back Fiar (Jade, Foscor) for additional vocals and have now included an official second guitar spot for producer/engineer and keyboardist J.F. (Graveyard, Teitanblood), effectively recreating the presence and practical sound of the first mLP. The idea that this is part two is brilliantly communicated, not only in the aesthetic of the album but in calling back to the greater verve of the first piece per the main rhythmic motif which developed throughout “Pillars of Salt”, a guiding gesture to start. Where I’d felt this record veered off into its own direction is in the synchronized, singular atmospheric nature of its movement which finds all parts moving within each others grasp rather than within constant changeling layers. Whereas a variety of different emergent points repeatedly surfaced at a high rate of fire on ‘Pillars of Salt‘ the general cycle of ideas found on ‘Covenant of Salt‘ sets its timer around ~3 minutes per complete throng or statement with less of an emphasis upon drifting between ideas, different types of voicing and instead a focuses on presenting well rounded thoughts in related succession. What we trade in constantly shifting terrain we gain in general coherence of form and purpose.
Tide in, mind out. — “Covenants of Salt” does not so outwardly sport the adventurous rock-fueled indulgences of the previous piece beyond retaining the ethereal-yet-ominous shape of its rhythms, stepping into a slightly more reserved and slowly built black metal headspace. The lead vocals are initially tentative, cryptically realize in the fresh terrain of descent they narrate. There is a sense of convergence and cacophony which arrives within Balmog‘s sound on this piece which seems to be a product of picking up at the apex of ‘Pillars of Salt‘ and continuing on with a sort of mid-paced contemplative first chapter while also thickening some of the more atmospheric values; Once we’ve struck upon the ~3:50 minute mark the first spike of speed kicks in and again around the ~9 minute mark the piece picks up its pace and these intervals begin to intensify as we reach for the apex of the piece which I would suggest lands around twelve or so minutes down the path.
Instead of feeling emergent, self-interruptive and varietal in terms of vocal style the ‘Covenants of Salt‘ experience hits upon a fairly regular set of beats which flow quite easily together downstream, leaving my mind wandering off rather than captivated in the same way the previous piece had. Comparisons aren’t too relevant when the intent is a continuation rather than a recreation of events and in this sense I appreciate that this feels like a more considered, focused second chapter. That said a known realm is no less valuable when we’ve a chance to continue exploring the realm Balmog have created, one which requires less of a host of comparisons to describe this time around; If this were ever considered for a full-length sized compilation of course ‘Covenants of Salt‘ would righteously serve a necessarily different mood over on Side B, though this doesn’t help its argument as a standalone piece which begs for a bit of context in every case. As an existing and enthused fan I’d found myself thrilled by evolution of this approach as a standalone mLP though I have to admit it shined best when paired with ‘Pillars of Salt‘. For the uninitiated, I’d suggest putting in the extra effort to contextualize their intent. A very high recommendation.
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