We’ve been on a bit of a cassette label kick here recently at the Vault. Given how much black metal we cover on a weekly basis, I suppose it was inevitable that we’d eventually make the leap over to that world. What I do find a bit surprising, though, is how many boutique cassette labels there actually are right now. I remember when the first promo from Fólkvangr Records hit my inbox back in February or March – I thought the label had to have been something of a novelty. But now that I’ve gone down the rabbit hole, I find the thriving nature of the cassette subculture a bit overwhelming.
Pacific Threnodies is a relative newcomer to the cassette scene. Last month’s excellent Nan Elmoth tape was the label’s first official release, and they’re back again this month with another winner in the form of a split release between California-based black metal bands At Dusk and Sacerdos. Featuring one epic (13+ minutes) song from each outfit, the split holds plenty of appeal for people who like their black metal long-form and exploratory.
Side A of the split belongs to one-man depressive black metal project At Dusk. I remember really liking his 2014 full-length Anhedonia, and “Condemned” is very much in the same vein as the tracks on that last record. Band mastermind Korihor has a knack for moody, dramatic songwriting that tends to rely a bit more on slower tempos than a lot of his contemporaries. Most of ‘Condemned” is on the tremolo-and-blasts side of the spectrum, but there’s a stretch near the middle that sounds like a particularly tortured take on My Dying Bride’s gothic brand of funeral doom, especially when he starts mixing in some twin guitar harmonies. There’s also something very baroque in the melody of the song that gives some of the progressions a very Bach-like feel, which fits very well with the highly poetic lyrics that I’m almost positive are written in iambic pentameter like fucking Shakespeare. Here’s a sample:
We all are, to a man, to this condemn’d:
To fall to shame, all dignity bereft
Slavering curs, our teeth baréd to rend
What awe remain’d among us unto death
In case you haven’t picked up on it by now, I’m incredibly impressed by this track on a compositional level – there’s a thoughtfulness in the song’s construction that rewards the careful listener with little Easter eggs like the formal poetic structure of his lines. He even interpolates a variation on a line from Lord Byron into the lyrics. But even if you aren’t an English nerd like me, “Condemned” can still simply be enjoyed as a fine example of emotional, lo-fi black metal.
Given how much I enjoyed At Dusk’s side of the split, I was prepared to be a bit let down by Sacerdos (which is Latin for ‘priest’) by comparison. I was totally unfamiliar with the Paso Robles-based duo of Brutus and Cassius (side note: best black metal aliases ever) prior to listening to their contribution “Hexagonum.” I full well intend to dive a bit deeper into their catalogue, though, because I was totally floored by their track. I can’t really speak to how reflective it is of the rest of their discography, but it seems to broadly fall into the ‘kind of black metal but not really’ category. There are some decidedly non-black metal elements in the guitars in particular that I’m having a hard time putting my finger on the sources for. It almost sounds like a Gothenburg influence—think Whoracle-era In Flames—filtered through some 90’s alt-rock. Wherever it comes from, the riffs are catchier than HPV on a porn set through the song’s ebullient-sounding first half, leading up to a very Agalloch-esque section of lead guitar. The track’s second half is a mix of ambient sounds from nature like chirping birds and heavy rain, along with some lovely, melodic passages of clean guitar. Simply put, the track is absolutely gorgeous musically. There’s plenty to unpack in the lyrics as well, which reference Egyptian mythology and the story of Shu, Nut, and Geb.
I usually try to wrap these reviews up with something clever, but I’m going to skip that step this time and just say this: if you like black metal at all, go fucking buy this split. And do it right now, because the cassette version is limited to 100 copies. You will definitely end up having a sad if you drag your feet and miss out.
At Dusk/Sacerdos will be available on August 29 via Pacific Threnodies.