What is black metal anymore? Does the label have any meaning left? When it comes down to it, the music we celebrate here at Nine Circles is loud, abrasive, and marches to the beat of a rebellious heart. People get caught up in categorization and labelling, under the impression that pigeonholing something gives them some sort of power over it. Eigenlicht is having none of that on debut full length Self-Annihiliating Consciousness, a towering monolith of sound that pushes against the constraints of the genre, refusing to bow before something as devoid of meaning as “black metal” even as it uses some of the building blocks of the movement in its nebulous and far-reaching shape.
Arising out of Olympia, Washington in 2014 the easiest label to throw on the band is the Cascadian tag that hits everyone from Agalloch to Wolves in the Throne Room,except there’s little neo-folk or aural imagery of forests in the harsh scripture that was 2015’s debut Sacral Regicide. Two tracks at over 11 minutes each showcased a harsher, angrier bend, with “Province of Immolated Kings” conjuring up a much more dour and solemn vibe with organ interludes and lyrics focusing on the crimes of more heavenly entities. If this was black metal, it was black metal with a decided doom slant, taking tremolo lines and rasped vocals and folding them into something altogether more sinister. “Autor Ego Audendi” (I am the Author of Being Bold) is a ferocious cry to knowledge through bodily destruction, and the rough production can’t hide the fact that the band’s musical ideas were as lofty as their lyrical ones. Leaning decidedly more toward traditional black metal, the EP left a lot of room to wonder at the direction the band would take on the inevitable full length.
The dark beauty of Self-Annihilating Consciousness is that Eigenlicht, true to form, refuse to take any direction other than where their muse directs them. We can go with black metal since that’s where they’ll be stuck, but the opening introduction “There Lies Already the Shadow of Annihilation” immediately subverts the form by having a tentative melody played by a flute over a buzzing tremolo line. It’s about as “folk” as the album gets, yet perfectly captures a sense of anticipation for the tracks that follow. “Hagia Sophia” begins with an almost tribal feel, a distorted guitar line playing over toms until the structure shifts, the drums picking up speed and complexity as keyboards and clean guitars take up the theme. By the time we get to anything even remotely “metal” on the album it’s been almost five minutes, and what “Hagia Sophia” brings to the table is a mammoth-sized chunk of doom. Harsh, demonic vocals clash against clean, somber intoned lines, as the song refuses to relinquish its invocation until the very end where the drums pick up and the first real strains of furious metal blaze forth.
At over 13 minutes in, like all the other songs on Self-Annihilating Consciousness (the shortest full song is just over 11 minutes) run the danger of losing steam quickly, but it just never happens. “Labrys” crashes forth with a wicked riff that sustains the track until the band executes another 180° turn and mixes some atmospheric post elements into the song. Dissonant melodies and sounds punctuate the middle section in a similar fashion to the opening of “Deifugal Force” which might be my favorite track on Self-Annihilating Consciousness, with the drums buried deep in the mix, allowing the guitar lines to ring out as the keyboards anchor the mood. If there’s a superstar on the album it’s the phenomenal mix/mastering job by Peter deBoer, who gives everything room to breathe and grow but doesn’t relegate every track to the same dynamics. That’s not to diminish the superb performances from the band, particularly the contributions of Mara Winter, whose keyboards and voice give an almost devotional sense to the music, despite its more diabolical leanings.
Eigenlicht have crafted a masterful, ambitious and substantial piece of art in Self-Annihilating Consciousness. In a world where “black metal” is increasingly becoming just another checkbox for bands, Eigenlicht strives to embody the spirit of rebellion with less regard for musical purity, and the result is one of the true highlights of 2018. This is an album that will grow and show different sides over time, so once you hear it, be prepared for a second, and third, and fourth listen. You’re going to find more each time you plumb its depths.