Reviewed: July, 2018
Released: 2018, Epicurus Records
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Star Wars fans will no doubt know that Hoth is the frozen planet from The Empire Strikes Back where Han Solo stuffs an unconscious Luke Skywalker into the freshly eviscerated carcass of a tauntaun to keep him warm. So that this melodic death/black metal band from Seattle who have also taken the name would favor Star Wars-based material should probably come as no surprise – especially since their logo also resembles a TIE Fighter.
But no one will mistake these guys for Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (aka, the Cantina band from the original Star Wars movie). Astral Necromancy, the cloaked duo’s third album, is unrepentantly extreme metal with an icy-cold tone that leaves no room for levity or jauntiness. And after the overt Star Wars references of 2012’s Infinite Darkness – with tracks like “Torn Asunder By A Wampa,” “Interstellar Gargantuan Space Slug” and “The Great Pit Of Carkoon” – and the more cleverly concealed conceptualizing of 2014’s Oathbreaker, Astral Necromancy is much darker and more nebulous.
I’m not nearly a big enough Star Wars nerd to mine through the lyrics here for Star Wars symbolism or abstractions from its mythos – though as I write this I am wearing Han Solo/Boba Fett socks that I got during a giveaway at a recent Washington Nationals baseball game, which I swear is a coincidence! But tracks like “Journey Into The Eternal Winter” or “Solitude” seem more out of Immortal’s kingdom cold “Blashyrkh,” although the black emptiness of space does figure prominently here. So there’s that.
Astral Necromancy actually kicks off with a distinctly Emperor-like air, with “Vengeance” all but replicating the main guitar lick of “I Am The Black Wizards” – then giving it a burly chanted chorus. From there, though, the album’s classic black metal sound is interspersed with elements of death metal, power metal – as in the shreddy leads and harmonies of “The Living Dreams of a Dead God” – and even a hint of folk metal as the band journeys into “The Void Between the Stars,” to borrow the title of its penultimate track.
The chuggy black ‘n roll of “Passage into Entropy” echoes Satyricon, and is easily the album’s catchiest tune, despite its superfluous organ outro. Astral Necromancy is billed as a concept album, but it’s really only there and in the brief Gregorian-style a cappella of “Ad Inane Precatio,” which essential splits the album in half, where it feels like there’s any sort of sonic connective tissue, which is fine. Interludes tend to be tedious and disruptive, and once duo get right back down to business with the grinding “The Gathering of the Accursed Artifacts,” the back half of the album seems like a race to the finish.
Not sure who plays what, or who even sings, here, since other than their names – David Dees and Eric Peters – Hoth reveal little about themselves. But these guys have seasoned chops – especially when it comes to the guitar leads, which are fluid and crafty throughout – and are obviously well-schooled in the ways of epic black metal. And the fact the Star Wars mystique has grown more, well, mysterious makes Astral Necromancy all the more compelling.