The relationship between music and darkness is as old as memory. Certainly the first humans to look up into the vastness of the night sky must have intoned some kind of hymns to the black, whether in abject fear or awe. The swirling dark is practically synonymous with metal — just check the number of band names with the word “Dark” or “Night” or “Black” in them. But true darkness lives in thought, in reflection and circumspection, and Junius have over the course of their recorded output gazed further and farther into the abyss, and Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light, their latest and concluding album in a conceptual trilogy is a dizzying ride through the human spirit as it confronts and moves past the specter of death. It’s also a hell of an album.
From the first EP, 2004’s Forcing Out the Silence you can hear many of the musical components in place: the shoegaze, clean vocals, and light/heavy alternating song structures. It’s good, and you can immediately hear the strength of Joseph Martinez’s voice as the central focus for the music to hang on. But it wasn’t until the first proper full length, The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist in 2009 that the aforementioned elements really coalesce into something dark and vibrant. Taking as its cue the controversial writings of Immanuel Velikovsky, the album is at once more dense in construction even as it accentuates the melody of the guitars and keyboards. Reports From the Threshold of Death brought this balanced contradiction in even sharper relief: opener “Betray the Grave” almost sounds like Chris Martin left Coldplay to front a metal band. Junius are tackling the same mood shifts that bands like Joy Divison and the Cure cut through in their best moments, and recall in their quieter moments the despair and haunting moments that adorned Anathema in their their transitional period, circa 1998 and Alternative 4.
Unlike Anathema, however, Junius move in a decidedly heavier direction on Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light. Losing longtime partner and co-guitarist Michael Repasch-Nieves, Martinez wrote and recorded all the instruments himself. “March of the Samsara” has a crushing opening, as if dozens of guitars are pressing down on the drums. When the verses kick in it definitely elicits that Ian Curtis/Joy Division vibe, but with a metal oppression that’s constantly threatening to overtake the song. Crashing directly into “Beyond the Pale Society” the heaviness doesn’t let up, menacing forward until on “Clean the Beast” ferocious death vocals kick in. It’s one more trick in Martinez’s arsenal, sparingly used but ridiculously effective.
The suffocating pace really doesn’t let up until “The Queen’s Constellation” which serves as the centerpiece of the album and one of the strongest tracks for moving away from the bludgeoning riffs and taking an almost ethereal approach in its ascending lines and gentle arpeggiated keyboard refrains. From there the remaining tracks almost feel like a coming back down to Earth — “Telepaths & Pyramids” utilizes throat singing, chants, and diminished lines to evoke the exotic nature of the journey. The largely acoustic “Masquerade in Veils” almost feels like Dead Can Dance in its hypnotic tribal rhythms. And when the album reaches the end with “Black Sarcophagus” the fullness of the sound returns to envelop the listener as the lid slowly closes.
There are so many things that can go wrong with music that attempts this level of ambition on one album, let alone three. With Eternal Rituals for the Accretion of Light Junius not only maintain the level of excellence achieved on the previous entries, but manage to exceed expectations thanks to a singular focus on ensuring every track, every note ties into the larger musical and narrative theme, a theme of darkness and cataclysm and journeys into unknown territories. It’s a crushing monolith of sound and I don’t doubt it’ll crop up at the end of the year.