It’s going to start raining and storming pretty regularly pretty soon, and I, for one, am excited about that. Unless it’s rush hour, because people in my town can’t drive in the elements. It’s the height of human terror, with nature opening up and exacting revenge for whatever wrongs we have perpetrated over the past year.
Anyhow, the return of soaked grounds, thunder crackles, and lightning make for a fitting background to the more atmospheric blends of black metal. They really go hand in hand with the season, just like they do during autumn, and being able to drink in the noises of like-minded savagery with the weather is something that makes me profoundly happy. This is where bands such as Philadelphia’s Hæthen come into play, and their debut full-length “Shaped By Aeolian Winds” is one that’s perfect for visitation right about now. You may already have your hands on a version of this album, as it was released independently in December, but now Ars Magna Recordings (CD version) and Fallen Empire (vinyl) are bringing this great, powerful record back into focus. And it feels like it was made for this time of year.
Hæthen grew out of NJ-based band Opus Dei after they split up, and this lineup is comprised of guitarist/vocalist Phaedrus, guitarist Wanderer, and drummer Gone. On this first full offering (they delivered a 2009 demo “Wanderer”), the band spread their spacious black metal over nine tracks and 55 minutes, showing both brutality and brains into the operation. Fans of groups including Agalloch, Fen, Wolves in the Throne Room, and artists of that ilk should fall in line with what Hæthen accomplish here. It’s an ambitious yet grainy effort, an album that shows the band’s prowess but also keeps their dark hearts burning and the sense of utter savagery firmly in place.
“Entranced By the Unknowing” is your opener, with black waves lapping, winds whipping, and bells chiming, almost as if signaling the funeral of winter. The song bursts a bit before subsiding, and that leads into “Taking the Auspices,” with its furious storming, acoustics slipping behind the curtains, and crushing shrieking. The pace bubbles hard, with the band pushing ahead with ambition and strength. “Amongst the Forlorn Larch” (runs 10:03) bursts open immediately, with creaky vocals weaving ugliness into the mix and acoustic strains drizzling over the background. The song feels hazy and foggy, the ideal soundtrack to an all-day rainstorm during a long stretch of warm, humid weather. The track gets gruff near the end, as melodies cascade mournfully until they fade into the night. “Fragments of Spectral Uncertainly” rages for 11:03, with brutality meeting interesting instrumentation, ferocious growls and shrieks penetrating, but then the track suddenly taking a weird turn. It feels like everything sinks underwater and to the bottom, like a weird movie score from the depths of the sea, only to return to volcanic fury and end up glorious and dreamy.
The title track then arrives, a short instrumental track with grim guitars and weird glimmering, leading into “In the Absence of the Eternal,” which ignites and is built on aggressive melodies and vicious growling. The band just grinds away, with dizzying guitar work, drums that are decimated, and the whole thing feeling like a total mind melt. “Captured Within the Annulus” has a thick sense of rustic folk at the start, which is darkened by an assault of dark black metal and a tempo that shifts repeatedly. When the pace gets raucous and clubbing, it later eases and brings a sense of calm. But that’s never permanent, as the guys always find ways to reignite the fires and blast your senses again. “The Gate of the Firmament” is slow and sweltering, with guitar melodies bustling and harsh growls breaking the skin. The bulk of the track has a dreary, dampening feel, keeping the elements pounding down on you until you manage to wander into “Spiritrise” which is a continuation, or second half, of what’s already afoot. Here, the music gets louder and more dangerous, the vocals corrode and feel damaged, and a bed of noise drone kicks up, leading into more stinging winds, storms that are born again, and a final burst of natural power before it fades into the distance.
If you were late to the boat for Hæthen’s debut, no worries for you. “Shaped By Aeolian Winds” sounds even better now than it did in mid-winter, as these songs are perfect along with our boots sinking into the hungry earth and the thaw swelling rivers and streams. They have a great mix of atmospherics and pure black metal rawness, and the fact that this music will be available in more formats means that additional people can bask in their dark glory.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Hæthen
To buy the album (CD), go here: http://www.arsmagnarecordings.com/InfoPage.htm
Or here (vinyl): http://store.fallenempirerecords.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.arsmagnarecordings.com/