I have been looking forward to this album for years—since 2015, to be exact, the year that this Seattle outfit dropped their incredible debut album, Moros. The last time we featured them, the band told us that their major influences skip from psychedelic Finnish black metal, Wovenhand, and Chelsea Wolfe to Swans, Neurosis, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Cure. As a listener will quickly discover once they dive into the band's new sophomore release, Black Somnia, not much has changed on that front, but I daresay that the band has gained a more profound understanding of how to translate that inspiration into their own truly iconoclastic sound.
I know I use the word "incredible" a lot (because I am a nerd who gets extremely pumped up about music and have no one to thwart my hyperbolic tendencies), but honestly, there's no better word to describe Black Somnia. The sheer depth of this music is stunning from the onset, when "Wound and Scar" ripples to life, its taut guitar lines of blackened doom midwifed by rapid-fire percussion and roiling bass, kicking into a more frantic tempo as vocalist Joy Von Spain dispenses vengeful howls. Here, atmospheric, ambitious melodic black metal meets thoughtful, midnight-tinted doom, stately neocrust, and ghostly vintage goth in a perfect danse macabre; I've honestly never heard anything else like it, and a big part of that lies in Von Spain's vocals.
Though the strength of the other instrumentation never suffers for lack of attention, Von Spain's wondrously versatile—here exquisitely clear, there demonically acrid, always enthralling—voice is a clear focal point. How could it not be? Her vocal chords vibrate with ill will and secrets, lending Eye of Nix a certain operatic touch by way of grandiose, subversive 80s goth. Each song sees her stretch and slither into different guises, from vindictive crone to sweetly singing maiden to sensuous pagan mother.
When she opens "A Curse"with dry, breathy whisper, the chill is inescapable—dead leaves rustling in an graveyard on a still winter night—and her unearthly roars at its panicky, discordant end are enough to stop your heart. The moment when Von Spain sings out on "Lull," proud and deeply, halfway to a chant, over a simple, lacy guitar melody and deliberate drum hits, is too lovely and pure to quantify. Her tightly controlled vocal undulations—guttural, soaring, shrieked, a proclamation, a curse—on epic album closer "A Hideous Visage" feel wild and unhinged, even as it's obvious she holds the reins in an iron grip.
"For me, the album is an exploration of the forces of fear and control, responses to these insidious, unseen powers, the specter that remains when we awaken from mysterious and frightening dreams," Von Spain told Noisey. "Billy Anderson worked with us on ideas to preserve the noisier elements of our sound and create layers of atmosphere surrounding the voice."
The more I listen to this album, the more perfect, unexpected new moments I find to replay and puzzle over. "Toll On" in particular shudders with beauty and menace; it unfurls gradually, floating in velvety gothic melodies as Von Spain's voice reaches for the heavens and its rhythm section builds up steam, slowly rumbling across the steel grey sky like a battery of heavy violet stormclouds.
However strong its individual parts, though, the entire album calls for intensive listening; music as immersive, and complex, and rewarding as this demands it. Listen to Black Somnia in full below, and come December 15, you snag it from the band directly (via Scry Recordings) right here.
Kim Kelly is still flipping out about this album on Twitter.