The cosmos. A concept capable of inspiring limitless imagination. Astral Path, an atmospheric black metal band out of Canada, has used the concepts of our known universe to fuel their debut album, An Oath To The Void. While this is not uncharted territory musically — the inspirations we hear will ring familiar very quickly — it’s still a sound that, when done well, can lift a listener to heights as infinite as the concepts behind them. That is exactly what Astral Path has done here. They have created one of the signature ambient atmospheric black metal albums of 2016.
The musical influences, as I mentioned before, can be heard quickly once the ambient droning introduction gives way to crisp, yet still organic, leads and rhythms on “Maroon Sea”. Echoes of Wolves In The Throne Room fused with Spectral Lore wash over us as Justin’s grainy shrieks pour out from behind the more prominent instrumental work.
And this is the first aspect of An Oath To The Void that I would like to touch on: the masterful production. For a debut, the energy and environment Astral Path is seeking to capture with their music is delivered perfectly. The percussion is audible, yet in a way that takes a step back with a hollow, echoing thickness to it. In turn, it serves as the primary source for this album’s depth of sound. The bass matches this nature nicely, while the guitars allow the sound to meander from various altitudes through ever-present tremolo picking and regularly visited deliberate melodic sections. The closing minutes of the title track speak to this clearly. When quality atmospheric black metal is the target, sometimes the intricacies of the specific instrumental work has less of an influence on an audience than how it all comes together and is presented. It’s the overriding grandiosity that can make an album of this nature stand out. That is the case here. The instrumentals are quality, to be clear, but it’s a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum its parts.
That doesn’t mean to say An Oath To The Void fails to change directions and explore various ground over the five tracks. “Between Appalachia And The Shield” is a scaled-down version of the sound we were introduced to early on. The pace is calm and steady, each lyric is cried with resonating anguish, and throughout the track Astral Path manages to perfect a certain dark beauty to their sound. Furthermore, while this sound may end up feeling most familiar to themes of the natural world beneath us, there is no question that some of the imagination tied to the cosmos above also shines through. The middle stages of “A Virulent Delusion” ease to a patient, yet consistent, climb after the track opened and was driven by a hot intensity before collapsing back to Earth. A similar, yet even more progressive story can be told on the closing “To Vega… Nebulous Anatomy”. But this type of change in pace and energy that can be so sudden is the type of sonical structure that virtually forces a listener to give into the musical environment around them. As if being forced into a free fall, acknowledging full dependence on the sound to level us off, and lift us back up once again.
With An Oath To The Void, Astral Path have created an immensely fulfilling sound. It encapsulates all of the grandiosity that we have grown to appreciate with atmospheric black metal, and it is delivered effectively. An Oath To The Void is something one can easily get lost in, as the passages contained within these five lengthy tracks spark imagination and a higher level of curiosity as the music meanders over time and space. For a debut, they have succeeded greatly in terms of sound and concept. The only question that remains now, is with a sound that has grown familiar in the metal universe over the years, where do they take their sound from here?
“Ein Bier… bitte.”