Falls of Rauros is a band that’s always been on the periphery of my awareness. I’d check out an album now and again, kind of dig it, but move on quickly. When I saw that their new album, Patterns in Mythology, was announced by Gilead Media, alongside the new False and Yellow Eyes (absolutely top of their game black metal offerings), I perked up. I try not to assume quality based on label, in general, but Gilead Media has a hell of a track record. So I wasn’t surprised (or maybe I was), when Patterns in Mythology blew me away.
With the new album fresh in my mind, I went back and bounced through their discography and was reminded that they’ve never really clicked for me. It checks all the boxes. I like the individual parts. But somehow it just never grabbed me. This was definitively not the case for Patterns in Mythology, which demanded my attention from the very first track. Some people don’t like intros, but I’m a sucker for them, always. I love a track that unapologetically sets the stage for an album.
The album is epic and meandering, mixing acoustic downtime, furious tremolo, and guitar passages which would normally sound completely out of place in black metal. Yet Falls of Rauros make it work. Part of what makes it so cohesive is that this isn’t yet another black metal album focusing on sounding as dark and evil as possible. It is, instead, an album that sounds uplifting and pensive. Occasionally it is difficult to call this a black metal album at all. The trappings are there. The vocals are definitely black metal vocals (usually) and there’s plenty of tremolo to be found. But the lead guitar work could be at home in a Baroness song. Or even an 80s ballad. It’s clean and evocative, emotional without being saccharine. So while tracks like “Weapons of Refusal” clearly start out in the black metal genre, the overall impression you are left with is far more complex.
I talk occasionally about the pointlessness of genre, and it’s stand-out albums like Patterns in Mythology that drive home how talking about music in terms of genre is an archaic pastime. Don Anderson’s talk about the growth and rapid metamorphosis of metal as a genre leans heavily into this. He points out that most of the sudden evolutions in metal come from unexpected influences, and I have no doubt that were we to get a list of influences on this album, there’d be some surprises. Patterns in Mythology feels like one of those ‘events’: a result whose provenance can only be understood after it arrives. I certainly couldn’t have predicted this album based on their previous efforts. Even with my knowledge of folk-influenced American black metal, (specifically Appalachian and Pacific Northwest), I don’t hear a lot of those elements, despite an expectation that you’d hear them on a folky black metal album like this. It doesn’t even sound much like Panopticon, which you might assume given that Austin Lunn has previously contributed to Falls of Rauros.
So, where did those influences come from? Obviously I have no idea, which can only mean there’s a wide swath of music I have yet to be exposed to. But what I hear on this album doesn’t fit any of my expectations, and it is all the better for it. There’s a moment in “Weapons of Refusal” after an acoustic interlude which evokes a relaxing stroll through the woods in fall. It then builds into a solo that is not only uplifting but also uses harmonization to sound epic, and it would feel completely out of place if we approached this as straight black metal. I wish I had a better grasp of music theory and a better ear for it, because I suspect I’d learn some new tricks from this album. In his book, “This is Your Brain on Music,” Daniel J. Levitin argues that surprise is what appeals to people most in music, and Patterns in Mythology is full of surprises. Whether it’s evoking Baroness or edging into Mastodon territory, or weaving unexpected solos into folky acoustic passages, Falls of Rauros fully uses their bag of tricks on this album.
In what is already a ridiculously strong year for metal, Falls of Rauros arrive on the scene with an album that can confidently expect to be on end of year lists. I don’t know what dark ritual Gilead Media has performed to assemble so many wonderful albums in such a short period, but in a year of winners, this is easily another. I suspect it may alienate black metal purists, but who even needs those people anyway? Nothing ruins a scene like people who abhor change. So embrace progress and enjoy the results. We didn’t need genres anyway.