[editor's note: Mark originally intended this review to be featured in his Hometown Heroes series which spotlights notable independent and underground bands but once he turned the review in it was obvious that Bladesmith deserved a spot as our File Under Cool and Underrated Artist of the Month, as this is exactly the kind of exceptional release that the series was founded to highlight. We'll let Mark tell you more and then you can go hear it for yourself– ed]
When recording his third CD under the Bane and Illusion moniker, Erik Wray found that a multitude of new ideas had expanded his music so far past his original goal of ambient black metal that a new band might be necessary in handling it. Scrapping the Bane and Illusion sophomore effort in Honor the Fallen Steel entirely, Wray laid that project to rest following its 2006 s/t debut and a split with Syrigx also released that year. Wholly unfettered by past restraints or ideas, Wray has now adopted the alias of Bladesmith, and already has released a monstrously wicked demo with The Darkness Remains Unsent.
Darkness is a complete purge of everything Bane and Illusion was; unlike most reboots, Bladesmith is a completely separate entity and exists on a completely different plane of existence from its ancestor. As some of you may recall, Wray mentioned in interviews conducted with me that the goal of Bane and Illusion was to meld chilling ambience seamlessly with classic-era black metal straight out of the Scandinavian Second Wave. The percussion was often artificial, the entirely ambient instrumental pieces stuck out like sore thumbs, and the black metal lacked the sort of "depth" that I personally think Bane and Illusion intended to convey.
With Bladesmith and The Darkness Remains Unsent, all of this is rendered utterly null-and-void. While the Bane and Illusion material often hovered on a precipice of frosty, glittering ambience well above a stream of thin, filthy pitch, the new Bladesmith album contains the revelation that the frozen ambience is just the filthy pitch in solid form. It is as if Wray discovered that the best way to make ambient second-wave black metal was not to meld the two styles into one, but rather slow classic Scandinavian black metal to a point of being damn near immobile. Thickly distorted and painfully cold, there is something hellish in how well these songs defy warmth. If black metal is the vessel of evil, Satan must really be in Dante's frozen wasteland of Hell in Cocytus---that is how frigid, paralyzing, and wicked these songs are! Through it all, Bladesmith shakes its proverbial fist at convention even further by incorporating all manner of moody, grim melodies. Subtle, gracefully-inserted, and almost absurdly penetrating, this is black metal meeting the funeral dirge and shaking hands with it very firmly as both salute each other with blackened hails.
The fully-realized "Introduction" perfectly exploits this idea. Instrumental ambience was a vital part of the Bane and Illusion equation, but in my humble opinion as epic as it was the few tracks Wray laid down lacked a common-denominator with the actual metal. This is fully rectified here, with the synths having been turned into gloomy shades of their former elegance. This new stoicism fits the rest of the album perfectly, and it appears Bladesmith has purged all manner of joy or inspiration from its ambient portions only to replace it with the stark melancholy of later-period Burzum. It makes for a moving, emotionally-gripping start to the CD, and listeners liking this have no idea what they're going to get next!
What we do get is the incredible "Dark and Iron Blood," a frostbitten skeleton of black metal if ever there was one! Wray now utilizes slow, crusty riffs that shift in-and-out of conscious reality, all while the wonderfully plodding percussion marches like the armies of the Apocalypse come for war. In a welcome twist, Wray has mixed his vokills much higher, his vomited howls sounding a thousand times more depraved and ferocious this time around. The beat is often militant and brutally simplistic, like a stone being used to kill a much better armed combantant in a fight. Especially awe-inspiring is the nauseous waves of grim synth melodies; you can hear them, but there is no way they'll cheer you up any! This is a fantastic cross between early Mayhem and later-period Burzum to be sure.
"In Where the Dragon Waits" creeps up on you with slicing riffage before noxious percussion rhythms entrance you into hypnotic clouds of sickly synth melodies. It sounds like a great Wyrm of mythology rolling in its death throes, while some perverted cult of followers mourn its passing with a demented symphony. The hollow ribcage percussion has razor-thin tremolo-picking weave tightly around it all before a period of extended blastbeating and epic, stomping BM. As the song slithers to its demise, you can't help but smile maniacally at how righteous this is for a debut CD.
"Orb of Virulent Lowlands" starts off with what sounds like a violin-dirge. From there, a choir of morbid, monotone voices rise slowly but surely into a virtual explosion of sickeningly murky black metal. This song marks the start of the most low-end, pummeling assault yet; brutally fast and with the eerie grace of a shark swimming in icy seas, "Orb" goes right for the jugular and simply cuts your head clean off.
"Gesture of Unhallowed Summons" starts off with a dirty, abrasive riff that soon blossoms into a rotten-flower of malignant blasting and blasphemous decay. Switiching at times to a militant pulse, choirs of lost souls hum moody melodies in the darkness all before being consumed in the firestorm of furious percussion once again. This often jarring see-saw effect does wonders to the atmosphere, and the song's mix of unhinged intensity and bestial focus is surprisingly set by a tasteful sample of crackling flames, sharpening swords, and ghostly whispers before a plague-ridden riff stumbles past before the last charge of violence.
"The Adamantine Chains" could be my favorite Erik Wray track to date, the man's animalistic rodent shrieks meshing beautifully (or is it disgustingly?) with some of the most blatantly blistering percussion Bladesmith OR Bane and Illusion has ever put to tape. With remarkable and deft agility, the song switches out of this into a mortifying mix of grim synths and twisting percussion and then back again, displaying a nimble complexity well beyond a fighting wolverine. Much like any good BM CD should, it leaves you gasping for air as the last song ends, and once you've prevented your own suffocation it is fairly probable you'll crave even more music of this nature.
I personally feel Wray has really driven his initial premise home with Bladesmith; this sounds like its own entity, a musical creature emerging into its own niche. With Bane and Illusion now disbanded, the main focus will be this project, and plans for both a split with Estonian BM maestro Ohvrikivi and a second LP are already in the works. To boot, the boldly defined music has won all sorts of international, underground attention, and Bladesmith has already been signed to Dungeons Deep Records, Inner Voice Records, and X-Factor Records for all manner of global distribution. Armed with the groundbreaking chaos of Mayhem, the stony hypnosis of Burzum, and the utter uncleansiness of fellow Finnish Filth horde Horna, Bladesmith is a BM experience all its own and well worth checking out for fans of the above, as well as say Beherit or Jotunspor as well. Cutting like the steel of an enemy's sword and just as unforgivingly cold, Bladesmith have forged quite The Darkness on this wonderful debut. Five f***ing hails, and can't wait for the rest!
2. Dark and Iron Blood
3. In Where the Dragon Waits
4. Orb of Virulent Lowlands
5. Gesture of Unhallowed Summons
6. The Adamantine Chains