I still think that one of my favorite, if not my actual favorite, moments on the Audio Thing is the episode we did way back in 2018 (back when I was just a fan as opposed to a contributor), where Vince made everyone listen to Gaerea’s Unsettling Whispers, and everyone else on the call ruthlessly clowned him for it. Okay, maybe my memory is exaggerating it a bit, but I still think about that episode for a lot of reasons. Not least of which is, despite the fact that I like to see Vince get clowned on, it prompted me to check out Gaerea for the first time, and I was actually quite impressed. Needless to say, this is a band that has only gotten better with time, and Mirage proves that unquestioningly.
While some bands chose to use the pandemic to rest on their laurels and enjoy some downtime, or even stress about the situation of the world or worry about if and when they would ever be able to get back to making and performing music, Gaerea took a much different approach. Never a band to shy away from the bleak, dark and melancholy, the band managed to stay inspired and focused in a time of great uncertainty, writing all the main parts of Mirage in about two weeks’ time. “…they were crucial for us, these years, because not too many bands stayed relevant and productive. The pandemic gave us the time to make the best release we could…Mirage was the product of a sudden inspiration,” says…well, one of the fellows in Gaerea. Hooded, clad in black and completely anonymous, the five-piece from Portugal hones their signature “cathartic black metal” into the sharpest and most focused it’s ever been, while still expanding the boundaries of what they’re capable of. Lyrically, the album focuses on the idea that life after death could be being alone and unreachable in familiar places, trapped in cities you once recognized but utterly alone and unable to make any connections with anything. It certainly is a unique take on storytelling, but what might be even more outside-the-box is the band’s petitioning of Miguel Tereso to engineer the record. He might not be a household name, but he is well-respected in the brutal death and slam scenes. What he’s not, however, is a fan of black metal. Still, that was exactly why Gaerea put him on their short list, and the end result works on highlighting the band’s strengths in new and exciting ways.
One of those strengths, maybe the biggest strength, is the way the band effortlessly weaves in between moments of tormented tension and ecstatic release. Gaerea have always been able to breed a strong atmosphere in their music, and on Mirage it’s no different. Nothing has changed a ton since Limbo, but the little differences make a huge overall effect. The lead work is more nuanced and poignant than ever. Especially with brutal death production, sometimes lead guitars get buried in the mix (my big issue with bands like Lorna Shore, who are extremely in vogue right now), but on Mirage they sit up front when they need to carry the melody (“Arson”) and brood in the spaces in between the growls, yelps and blasts (“Salve”, “Mirage”). And speaking of yelps, the vocals on Mirage are an outstanding representation of what happens when you properly record black metal vocals and not just stuff them down and bury them in reverb (I love you, Panopticon). I feel the scratches on my own throat listening to every track on this album, and they carry so much more passion than the average black metal vocals. Passion seems to be the name of the game here, as Mirage carries it in spades.
“We are not the same band who recorded Limbo. We are more eager to take on the world. If the pandemic taught us anything it is that nothing is certain.” Mirage is an intense album, maybe the most intense album Gaerea has made yet, but it is a statement about their place in the world. This is a band who is not afraid of pushing black metal forward with modern sounds and modern thought. Gaerea appear on the verge of becoming staples of the genre, with eyes on the future, and I don’t think anyone is going to clown on me saying so. Hopefully I didn’t just jinx myself there, so, you know, be nice in the comments section.