Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Blacksoul Seraphim, Blacksoul Seraphim (2012)

  1. Alms and Avarice
  2. Conspiracy of Exarchs
  3. Madness of Beggars
  4. Virtue and Vermin
  5. Dust Merchant
  6. Plague of Pawns
  7. Revelations of the Fallen
  8. Tarnishing of the Crown
  9. Psalm of Insurrection
  10. Song of the Times

It's a question worth putting to all aspiring dark metal acts (and many established ones, too): how many deathly screams, blastbeats, and swooping synths does it take to summon evil? Blacksoul Seraphim reckon they have an answer, and it's not what you'd expect. The latest brainchild of a serial American dark heart, Morte McAdaver, the band sit snugly in a grimy corner of the doom metal genre, bearing familiar tales of fallen authority and lost grace in a not-altogether-familiar fashion.

The band and its creator have set out with purpose and intent. According to their bandcamp site, “Morte pondered the perspective of an angel come to Earth and forced to endure the pain of being here. These are songs meant to convey that suffering, pity, and sorrow that a fallen celestial being might feel about us as a society.” That suffering, pity, and sorrow is manifested in sweeping and majestic lyricry, carved out in period-drama poetry which weaves its sullen way through the album. Chronicling the lamentations of the fallen, these challenge various themes related to morality and material existence, from the plight of society's abandoned and lost to the greed and corruption of their masters. These intentions might not be revolutionary for the genre, but that's far from saying their not ambitious.

On the one hand, they provide an opportunity for a genuine lyrical talent to dish out an inspired tongue-lashing to the superiors of yesteryear. Confronting a bejewelled and crested church, lyrics swiftly invert and pervert the basis of its moral authority. The magnificent, shining imagery of His glory glints with malice and greed. The crown “Jagged to the touch – brimstone forged” (track 1, Alms and Avarice) is a recurrent theme throughout (for a visual reference, just take a look at the album cover): it epitomises a bankrupt and bankrolled authority which conducts the minions before it with sweeps of its gnarled hand. And it's followed by further symbols of imperial moral authority, which are, in turn, dethroned by our perceptive cupid. The very patriarchs themselves are transformed into selfish, brooding pariahs in track 2, seeking gain and profit as they “nest/Under the veil of rosaries/And the aegis of the blessed”, clutching the spoils of their corrupt endeavour: “Talons grip the treasures and troves”. Bringing disharmony and strife to the land, they, in turn, worship a higher evil, “The Jagged King” invoked in track 6, Plague of Pawns: “To the prosperous priests he is lord”.

On the other hand, this spectre of archaic resentment is invoked to lament also the plight of the layman. His is a life of material deprivation and decay, ensured by the demonic dictatorship of morality of his masters. Neatly twisting the message of the chosen people, track 3, Madness of Beggars, presents a broken and hopeless mass: “Poverty's chosen have no place/They hide their own faces beneath the waste and leave no trace.” But, despite the moral absurdity of this order, it is based on nothing but stone-cold reality, as the lyrics continue: “Madness...or so they say/No asylum can be found in this place”.

This all seems to be the point of underpinning for the musical themes, which stay true to the archaic feel of the lyrical themes they accompany. Sparse, cold, and yet perilously deep, these are shaped by a small clutter of guitars, drums, and keys. The chords and winding melodies of guitars are raw and rasping, ambling their disdainful way between the steady bumps of drums at a consciously reflective pace. Their path is traced out, more frequently than not, by rickety piano keys which clatter in rattling unison. This desolate musical scene is completed by the menacing tones of deep but clean vocals.

It's a blessing (if that's the right word) that their deviant spirit has led Blacksoul Seraphim away from the dense string synths and satanic vocal screeches that have come to define the work of so many dark metal acts. For the sparsity and reflection that their approach offers is no less capable of inspiring the dark forces and, in many cases, is far more so. And, avoiding the wild overproduction, the music's raw, browbeaten visage peers through with a degree of integrity and emotion so often lacking. As the album mianders to its conclusion, there are times when the dreadful tones of despair threaten to become slightly too dreadful, droning ever onwards. But there's certainly no questioning the effectiveness of their style in conjuring an atmosphere of desolation. And it might also be noted that some of the weakest moments come about when the stripped-back approach lapses, as with track 6, Plagues of Pawns, where the less welcome sounds of rapid-fire double bass pedals and harsh growls test the limits of their musical self-control.

In music, as in lyrics, this canvas is not neither new nor shiny; and its not intended to be: traditional complaints of a downtrodden laity, visions of a money-grabbing priesthood set against the miseries of impoverishment are invoked in the best spirit and tone of the 19th century peasant philosopher. So much so, in fact, that, when it comes to the album's finale, Song of the Times (a traditional English rebel song, dating to some time in the mid-1800s), there's little to distinguish either language or melody (the latter admittedly, and by the band's own admission, constructed by punky English anarchists, Chumbawumba, not by the original rebel) from the rest of the album.

What is, perhaps, more noteworthy with regards to the album's themes, however, is not the band's construction of a past of unrepented evil, but rather their use to demand a present of unparalleled liberation. Towards the end of their otherwise historical (and, of course, hypothetical) nightmare, Blacksoul Seraphim begin to raise the standard of rebellion. It is a call made first in track 7, Revelations of the Fallen, where the dethroned angel (remember him?) exhorts humanity to heed his insights:
This place is for the fallen, and so it falls to thee
It was my judgement that allowed you to see
Now, the choice is yours and I have sacrificed my wings
May you find release from the reign of the Jagged King.

There follows, in the appropriately named Psalm of Insurrection, a 9-minute rage of the masses against their rulers, “As fevers rise with the snowfall/And wrath swells within us all”. For, given all their archaic imagery, the band have struck a message and symbolism no less relevant to the deprivation and injustice of today. And the “ragged man march through the city streets” of track 10 is inspired by issues which are, again, becoming ever clearer to our own society. Morte McAdaver, in his previous projects, has certainly had shown a taste for rebellion, and various works up to this point have railed against economic and moral injustice: this is no different; the angel fallen to earth is, after all, expressing his anguish at “us as a society.” We would, therefore, be mistaken to take the archaic and mystical setting of the penultimate verse, which condemns the elite, too literally:
The power that once was held
By monarchs, cowards, and thieves
Cannot stand against the righteous might of the many that still believe

A very satisfying conclusion to a very poignant piece of work. Blacksoul Seraphim is a well-crafted yet self-consciously rough hunk of coal, uniting the dark, damp, and dingy sounds of the historical underworld to raise a banner of liberation. Never complex yet never boring, this is a deeply atmospheric record which reserves its right to dignity and deserves the respect of fans everywhere. Their lyrics, some of the best the genre is ever likely to offer, carry a message which we would all do well to take note of. So, come on – don't just stand there! Haul your pitchforks and let's make for the lord's manor!

Production: 5/5
Lyrics: 5/5
Album Cohesion: 3/5
Music: 7/10

Percentage Score: 80/100

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