Do you know how many albums I’ve reviewed in 2012 so far? One. Comparing that to 2011, when I had pumped out well over 40 by this point in the year, you might say I am a bit behind. It was somewhat inevitable this year, with my video game music project taking up the grand bulk of my free time, but it’s not too late to catch up where I can.
And why not start with the obscure? Hail Spirit Noir is a band from Thessalonika, Greece. The person who introduced me to this album described it as “progressive psychedelic black metal”, which I don’t necessarily agree with but should certainly uh… pique your curiosity.
Mountain of Horror
My apologies for this video. I wanted to include the opening track, and the only copy of it on youtube commits the double idiocy of presenting a fake music video and cutting off the last 30 seconds of the song. While it actually syncs up with the music quite nicely, I have no reason to believe it is anything but a fan project, and it should be duly ignored.
I think there is a general bias among metal fans to label anything black which possesses the slightest traces of the sub-genre. To call Pneuma black metal is a bit of a stretch. The elements of black metal it incorporates are all on the fringe of the genre, and at the end of the day it is far too broad to place any single label on. What you get in “Mountain of Horror” is a combination of that “black and roll” vibe that Peste Noire perfected on Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor, a heavy dose of 70s prog keyboards, and a progressive black break that falls firmly within the sort of sound Ephel Duath pioneered–more avantgarde than “progressive black” in the sense that recent Enslaved and Ihsahn might call to mind.
Against the Curse, We Dream
And what do you know, another fake music video. Oh well. What you might start to notice as this album progresses is a semblance of stylistic consistency underlining the disorganized madness. Black and roll meets traditional black metal meets psychedelic/70s prog meets avantgarde doodling, mouthful though it may be, is definitely the order of the day.
The Peste Noire vibe is definitely the selling point for me, and in Against the Curse, We Dream it syncs up particularly nicely with the prog synth. The Ephel Duath-esque avantgarde bits leave a lot to be desired, but really, when does avantgarde music ever not leave a lot to be desired? Its presence is at least relatively minimal in the broad range of Pneuma’s sounds. The disorganized nature of the songs is also not particularly problematic, in so far as a standard rock beat sustains to hold the vast majority of it together.
The only thing that kills it a bit for me is the lack of dynamics. From the most break-neck blast beats to the calmest, coolest prog grooves, the album maintains pretty much the exact same level of intensity. It is very much even keel from start to finish. That is more a vice of prog music, which Hail Spirit Noir ultimately choose to place above the metal side of their sound. Much like practically all prog that I have encountered prior to the past ten years, it never opts to overwhelm, feeling relatively dispassionate at the moments where intensity is in highest demand. Consider the staccato break at 5:34 in this video, and how much it could benefit from the level of tension System of a Down applied to similar passages in their early albums. The aggression which follows is somewhat lost to the vibe-killer that the previous passage did not necessarily need to invoke. The avantgarde outro is a disappointing end to a relatively creative song that, enjoyable though it may be, fails to move me to the extent that I feel like it ought to have. This is, of course, to place some unfair stipulations on the band; that the overall atmosphere isn’t what I would have chosen doesn’t mean it fails to capture the vibe Hail Spirit Noir were aiming for.
Haire Pneuma Skoteino
The closing song, Haire Pneuma Skoteino, is by far the most accessible song on the album, and I was pretty surprised by how well I remembered it, having only heard the song one time before, when I first picked up the album half a year ago. I suppose a poppy, catchy outro track is well in keeping with Hail Spirit Noir’s consistent inconsistencies.
At the end of the day, I have mixed feelings about Pneuma. It falls victim to being the first new release I’ve listened to in the better part of a year, and I’m no doubt being a lot more critical than I would have been this time last year, but I just feel like the execution leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, it is definitely an impressive and well-informed debut from a band on an obscure label from a country not exactly famous for its metal scene, and the shortcomings I hear suggest I am instinctively holding them to a much higher standard than I would other bands with similar backgrounds. Pneuma isn’t an album I’m likely to revisit, but it has convinced me that this band is a world of potential. I’ll be keeping an eye out for their future releases.