Reviewed: July 2022
Released: 2022, Iron Bonehead Productions
Reviewer: Lee Carter
As an artistic choice, the reasoning for the “raw” approach to black metal is completely understandable. It takes an already challenging listen, and takes it up (down?) a notch so that the overall aesthetic is as punishing as possible. To many, black metal needs to be an uncomfortable listen and far beyond something enjoyable to listen to, ironically. The nastier it sounds, the closer to the true, or trve, sound of the subgenre. If that’s what you want to achieve with your music, then sail on that black sea ‘til the ends of the earth.
It is something that BLACK CILICE has done, and continues to do, for the better part of thirteen years now. ‘Esoteric Atavism’ sees the elusive one-man Portuguese project perpetuate the lowest-fi black metal you will likely hear this side of the Century, and it is utterly unrelenting. From the distorted howl of opener “Beyond The Veil”, to the distorted howl that just becomes distortion of finale “Towards Transcendence”, your ears will be subject to sounds so harsh, it could replace high-volumed static as a torture device. That being said, the vocals sound like the man’s being tortured, so someone should probably check that he’s alright.
It may seem obvious to say, but raw black metal is very much a niche subsect of black metal, and it is only the connoisseurs that will be able to wax lyrical about its virtues. However, to most listeners, this will be an impenetrable listen. Bands often soften with age, but there appears to be none of that on offer here, so if you are willing to take the plunge with BLACK CILICE, then brace yourself. The term “extreme” metal is bandied about rather a lot as something of an all-encompassing term to include those bands nudging the edges of boundaries in their respective fields, but it is a term that would be better used here – this is music in its absolute extremity.
If it appears that the above is belabouring the point about ‘Esoteric Atavism’ being a very difficult listen, then there will be no disagreement here. On first listen, “Beyond The Veil” sounds as if a black metal band has been recorded performing the song from outside their rehearsal room with the door closed: the guitars make no discernible note beyond static fuzz, with there being a vague drone weaving through, whilst the drums just indecipherably pound away. Atop it all, are vocals that are as illegible as they come – there could just as well be no lyrics at all and BLACK CILICE’s main man is just howling indiscriminately whenever the moment takes.
As openers go, the oppressive and dark atmosphere on offer would ordinarily set the tone for what is to come, but the following five tracks have a surprising brightness to them, despite their indiscernible nature. “Channelling Old Power” opens with almost rock ‘n’ roll pomp as the guitars make an actual riff, before returning to black metal tremolo form with nary a delay, whilst “Atavistic Reconnection” chucks in some chunk, with some chuggy riffage during the song’s middle. There are a small number of long-form tremolo melodies that weave their way throughout – see “Triumph Over Eternity” – that do some serious heavy lifting across the album, and see to it that it isn’t just an unrelenting aural assault.
While repeat listens allow for further reflection and picking up of subtle melodic nuances, etc., ‘Esoteric Atavism’ is still a brutally exhausting listen. The indistinguishable and cavernous vocals, coupled with unspecific drum sounds that are apparently going on somewhere over there with guitars that come across more as a texture than an instrument, make for an utterly uncomfortable experience. The crying shame, however, is that underneath all this din are some potentially good songs. While there are times when songs bleed into each other and the album feels like one long endurance test, there are moments when the tempo slows, variation appears and the ears prick up. Yet the deliberate choice in production hinders the ability to truly hear the songwriting beyond the almost formless cacophony. As stated at the top of this piece, the decision from an artist’s perspective is respectable, but in an age where production values are high, it seems a shame to mask one’s talent behind a deliberately poor aural aesthetic.
As BLACK CILICE’s sixth full length effort, it is not for anyone to tell this raw black metal veteran how to write music. ‘Esoteric Atavism’ is absolutely punishing: it is extreme, it is harsh and it is pretty much the perfect representation of how raw black metal should sound. Yet, because of the incredibly raw sound, the subgenre it resides in shoots itself in the foot: the more harsh and unintelligible, the less we are able to understand the songwriting on display and connect with it. For all its extremity, if you are looking for atmosphere and discomfort, this is the one for you.