“Atmosphere” in black metal can mean many different things. For Rob Allen, the driving force behind the Australian solo black metal entity known as Vaiya, that atmosphere took on multiple aspects: the sense of air and space in the acoustic and folk elements that made the bulk of two single track EPs, and the vacuum of that same air as each track evolved into a storm of swirling guitars and drums, trapped behind a membrane you could feel barely holding the back the maelstrom. On Vaiya’s first proper LP Remnant Light the air has been sucked out completely, leaving little behind except the suffocating black metal now free envelop and smother the listener in its frenzy.
Comprised of three tracks, each 13 minutes in length, Remnant Light seeks to act as a ritual banishment of the darkest aspects of the ego. Without a lyric sheet I can’t begin to know whether that’s true, but almost immediately on opening track “Confrontation” you can hear buried within the verses a morose melody line that aches to come forward. It’s strangely reminiscent of the chants that follow the chorus on King Crimson’s “The Court of the Crimson King” and it just registers enough for you to see that Vaiya has multiple things happening at once in the music. Things slow down about seven minutes in and take on a funeral dirge as Allen’s vocals chant as accompaniment to a guitar line that fades to a lengthy acoustic passage which takes the listener up and out of the darkness only to abruptly plunge back into a rampaging blackgaze that ends in a rainstorm.
This connection to nature is a key to all of Vaiya’s music, and while the previous EPs were written to specifically address the Winter Solstice (:Wintermoon:) or the plea for calm in the anxiety of an urban existence (the Cast split) the intent on Remnant Light is to take this focus on nature and direct it inward, charting a journey out of existential darkness toward light. Second track “Banishment” howls right out the gate, Allen building out the suffocation with layers of sound and reverb giving everything a slightly muffled quality so that when an errant line of melody does come out it feels like an escape more than a premeditated act. Despite the tight, claustrophobic quality of the music it never feels overly oppressive, and that’s a credit to how Vaiya balances the mood over each section. By the time closer “Transformation” starts we can see a little of the method in the madness: the track opens with some of the most aggressive arrangements on Remnant Light, echoing pain of initial growth and enlightenment. That enlightenment and passage to the other side is represented by the inverse of how the album began: rather than the growing sound of electric droning it’s the soft eddies of nature that quietly fade out, bringing us back to the framework Vaiya has hung its metal tapestry on.
I’m the first to admit I’m a sucker for solo black metal projects, but there’s something unique in Vaiya’s take on nature and transformative journey that held me through the entirety of Remnant Light. As the first album to really emphasize the real metal aspects of Vaiya’s music it’s a no-holds barred success, and hopefully is indicative of the kind of expansion and maturity we can see in future recordings. There’s a lot to take in; multiple listens are both a must and a pleasure.