Genres grow stale. We know this. How much repetition can we bear before we completely stop giving a shit? And one genre that’s more guilty of this than many others is, dare I say it, black metal. We get it. We do. Satan. Blast beats. Tremolo picking. Grim… kvlt… frostbitten… raw. But it can get boring. The trick is to differentiate yourself from the pack while staying true to the roots that define your genre’s existence. Fortunately, with their new album, Ophidian Henosis, Barshasketh have done exactly that…and crafted one of the best albums of the year to date as a result.
Formed back in 2009, the New Zealand-born, Edinburgh-based quartet had previously released two prior full-lengths, to mostly positive reception. But with Ophidian Henosis, it’s clear that they’ve turned a corner and begun defining themselves as one of the premier black metal outfits out there today.
Ophidian Henosis is broken into seven tracks, titled simply, “I” through “VII”. They also, cleverly, keep the album name as a precursor to all seven, allowing each to develop its own personality while maintaining cohesion as a whole. For example, “Ophidian Henosis – I” opens with much of the familiar black metal qualities we all know and recognize: blast beats and tremolo picking abound, surrounded by only the harshest, echoing shrieks. But then, the song closes with an extremely thrashy primary riff — a fascinating way to conclude a song of this nature and transition to another.
But that song structure doesn’t remain throughout. While “II” is even darker at its entry, almost reminiscent of the Silence of the Lambs theme song on speed, “III” starts in a hauntingly deliberate manner, before sliding effortlessly into the daringly triumphant melodicism within the crux of “IV”. The band utilizes everything from power chords to tremolo picking to double-tapping, and there’s never a shortage of creativity. And it’s all produced with absolute clarity — which further emphasizes how impressive this sound is. On the highest level, the construction of each song — and the inclusion of all these styles and emotions — is pure brilliance.
When it really boils down to it, this is what Ophidian Henosis is all about. Barshasketh know how to write black metal. And knowing the darkened origins of the genre that defines them, they find a way to experiment just enough to keep each track definitively within its own genre… developing a sound that is curiously and refreshingly optimistic at times. The core of this album ranks among the blackest environments you’ll immerse yourselves in all year, but at the same time, it’s hard to focus in on the opening lines of “Ophidian Henosis – V” or “VI,” for example, and not become entranced by the epic nature of the leads. The tremolo picking is still aggressive and heavy, but it also finds a way to be rather uplifting. They take the raw core of black metal, introduce a melodic touch — not to the point of shoegaze necessarily, but enough to generate a bit of natural light within the darkness — and create a spatial environment likened to that of isolated triumph on say, a mountaintop on a fall evening.
Don’t get me wrong: this is still black metal — and it may be the best, purest, black metal you will hear in 2015. It’s a well-produced album that flows seamlessly from track to track and offers enough diversity to keep the listener interested. From start to finish, each moment is to be appreciated and recognized. Barshasketh never lose sight of the pain and darkness that define their chosen genre; they just choose to present it in a different way. And the result is something we’ll surely all be talking about come year-end. At least I will be.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”