Release Date: 22 September 2015
Record Label: Hammerheart Records (will re-issue in January)
Buy on CD ($12) or digital ($7) from: Bandcamp
At the end of every year I like to give my album review writers the chance to write about not their favorite album of the year but instead the one they think was the most overlooked and deserving of more attention. The albums don’t have to be from the local scene like most of the reviews on DCHM and the choice is totally up to them. Buzzo Jr’s was posted here yesterday but today is Tal’s pick for the 2015 album that deserves more attention.
For a while now I’ve preferred metal music that’s slower and sadder than the norm, and sometimes haunting or ethereal rather than heavy. But there’s still a part of me that longs for epic grandeur, as my 2013 review of Echoes Of Battle by Caladan Brood goes to show, and this year I found myself drawn to a similarly dark and epic album: Tenebrosum by New Jersey’s Windfaerer.
I first heard Windfaerer on Lightfox177’s Youtube channel, a treasure trove of ambient and atmospheric metal, so I expected something either ethereal or desolate. I could hardly believe my ears as the commanding riffs at the start of “Celestial Supremacy,” which is the first song on the album, thundered out of my headphones. It does have a cascading atmospheric guitar sound to it, but it also has energetic groove more like the melodeathy end of the folk/Viking metal spectrum. I would put this song on while working on my novel, but then end up headbanging too hard to get any writing done. And it only amps up more, as a minute and a half in, the drums go wild and the guitars become a white-noise wall of sound punctuated by distorted wah’s, and then roaring vocals summon the darkness. A keening violin cuts through the chaos. Then during the chorus the song expands to epic grandeur, as you can just make out the vocalist roaring, “This is the legend we have forged.”
Comparisons to Summoning and Caladan Brood are inevitable, and warranted, as far as the epic parts are concerned. In addition, the style of the violin melodies recalls Maryland folk metal band Isenmor, especially in the parts where the violin soars on flights of fancy over a frenzied black metal barrage. Could this be a distinctive flavor of U.S. East Coast folk metal? The band describes themselves as “an extreme aural entity inspired by black metal and folkloric atmospheres…an homage to ancestral travels and an essence beyond our grasp,” defying location in a single genre or tradition.
Drawn in by “Celestial Supremacy,” I went on to listen to the rest of the album. The second song, “Finisterra,” features an irresistibly groovy and headbangable riff, and an instrumental segment that starts as a dreamy clean passage with gently flowing violin, and then morphs into a soaring solo over tremolo-y atmospheric guitar.
The first two songs are so captivating that they overshadow the third song. “Tales of Oblivion” has a slower feel, in spite of its blast beats and buzzsaw riffage, due to the slow melody and drawn out vocals, though it does have a fast and then furious passage in the middle. There isn’t as much captivating groove or melody to this song though. “Santería,” meanwhile, is a wild dance of violin over hammering riffs and frenetic blasts of drumming. It’s a relatively short, fast and heavy instrumental. It segues smoothly into “The Everlasting,” which features sweeping violin over the now expected barrage of drums and guitar, while the vocalist roars grandly, “These wounds will last forever, like stars carved in the sky / The heavens bleed the sorrows of mankind.” Cascades of tremolo guitar are surmounted by an achingly beautiful violin melody, and then the song closes with a clean guitar passage, contrasting with the godlike wrath of the vocals in between.
“Morir en el olvido” begins with a catchy riff and then violin melody, which underpin the song even once the darker vocals, blast beats and buzzsaw guitar come in. It’s another groovy headbangable one with its abundance of melodic riffage. “The Outer Darkness,” the last song on the album, is a last assault of frenzied guitar, drums and violin all together, as though all the forces of darkness were battering at the gates. This is not the anthropomorphic darkness of a demonic figure, however, but the inanimate forces of nature and the cosmos around us:
I am the expansiveness of planets
I am the disinterested force of storms
This plane is hostile
Here there is nothingness
I am the outer darkness
After a more moderate section with a meandering, proggy violin solo, like a pleasant jaunt through the far reaches of the galaxy, our ultimate smallness catches up with us, as the song and album end with a last barrage of instruments and vocals that conjures up the howling of the void.
In contrast to most other epic bands, Windfaerer’s subject matter on Tenebrosum doesn’t include any heroes or mighty deeds. Instead they sing of “sagas of seclusion,” “bleak words that have failed me” and being “washed away like sand at shore, slowly erased from time.” Even “Celestial Supremacy” with its references to legends and quests seems to be more about the fruitlessness of such endeavors, and ends with the voyagers leaving earth behind, perhaps forever. Heroic epics are about remembering; Tenebrosum is about oblivion, being forgotten and disappearing. It is actually anti-epic – or perhaps an epic paean to the immense cosmos that overwhelms all human attempts to write our names in the sand, as it were.
But hey, at least we get to listen to something as soul-stirring as this album during the time we do have here.
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