Here’s the thing about black metal, particularly black metal in the vein of the second wave: there’s so much of it. So if you’re going to play it, or pay homage to it, you’re going to have to do something to stand out because when you get down to it most people are going to be perfectly content to go back to the 5-10 albums that made them love the genre in the first place. And for about a song and a half the new self titled album from Barshasketh appeared to tread similar ground. But like the best the genre has to offer, there are strange and sharp hooks on Barshasketh that come out and refuse to let go, resulting in a real grabber of an album as well as a fitting use of the eponymous title.
When a band decides to release a self-titled album after already having a few releases under their belt, it usually indicates a change of guard, or a reset. But between their numerous splits and previous full lengths no one would accuse Barshasketh of needing a reset. 2015’s Ophidian Henosis was an icy cold blast of everything great about black metal, ripping tremolo leads and a wicked sense of itself. At once beholden to the progenitors of the form it nevertheless embraced a technical proficiency and crystal clear production that maintained the frigid feel of the second wave while simultaneously letting you hear every nuance of the songs. So – no need at all for a self titled at this point unless the band was really looking to take things to another level.
And while opening track “Vacillation” is a fine, even sterling example of the form, it certainly doesn’t do anything to stand out. It’s fine, everything charging right out of the gate and refuses to sit on its laurels, forgoing repetition in favor of a bevy of head snapping riffs and ideas that pour one atop the other. It’s a really good track, but again – hundreds of bands are doing this, so if you want to make your mark sounding “really good” isn’t going to cut it.
Enter “Resolve.” It starts the same, everything coming in at 11, nothing left in reserve. But in its brief runtime it manages to take a breath and let all those choice lines come through. Chords suddenly open up, and the drums make way for the lead lines to fill the song out. The differences aren’t huge, but they pave the way for a more expressive piece of music, and the fact that it then segues into the two-part “Consciousness” is just icing on the cake. Both tracks are some of the best music Barshasketh have put down, and it’s the difference between loving that a band is hitting the notes you love from other albums, and a band hitting the notes you love and also makes you forget about those other albums. Before “Consciousness” I was finding parallels to how Emperor would use tremolo leads above running power chords, or how the icy, thin production mirrored bands like Darkthrone or later Mayhem. But by “Consciousness” and the two-part “Ruin” I was only thinking about what Barshasketh was doing, and how this compared to everything they had done in the past.
Because the truth is there’s nothing on Barshasketh that Barshasketh hasn’t done before. But it took until this album for everything they were doing to cohere in such a way that it no longer felt like homage, and felt like them. And if that isn’t a reason to put out a self-titled album…well, I don’t know what is.