When it comes to things perceived as romantic, it generally is sentimental and brings out feelings of longing and passion, and black metal is not the most romantic of genres. I have never heard a proper black metal ballad that pulls at the heartstrings and calls to mind idyllic sentiments. Then again, I have also never heard a band make romantic black metal a reality. Although that sounds like one of the tallest orders outside of the classical (read: orchestral/choral) world, South African band Constellatia bring that front and center on their second album, Magisterial Romance.
It is understood that, on a fundamental level, romance can lead to happiness, but one must also understand that it can lead to heartbreak if it turns out that the things you wanted fall short of your expectations. This feeling of uncertainty is encapsulated on the first track “Palace,” whose bleakness belies anxiety. There is a feeling of hoping to impress, of hoping that the person you are meeting is someone you want to be with. However, it is also understood that those anxieties – and whatever expectations you may hold towards the object of your affections – may lead to reassessing whether this is something you want. In the space of nine minutes, “Palace” deliberates on whether pursuing this relationship is something one wants, and ultimately thinks about the ending if and when it happens. This leads to the second track, “In Vituperation,” whose acerbic outlook sits underneath the song’s overall mood. Don’t let its soft atmosphere, syncopated drumming beat, and bright guitar tones fool you – the lyrics indicate that if a relationship ends, it will end badly. For what has so far been the thoughts of a nervous person, these thoughts shift to an extreme because of the expectation of things ending badly, and the music reflects this shift in its chaotic-sounding outro. As I listened to this play out, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic. Shouldn’t he be able to take a leap of faith to see if this relationship will work out? It’s obvious that he wants this to work out, because why else would he be nervous?
Then, the album’s mood picks up on third track “Adorn.” As a foil to “In Vituperation,” this is the most emotional song, both by the band’s use of its textured atmosphere and through soft vocals that remind me of walks on the beach. This is where the more progressive aspects of Constellatia’s sound come in; by having Alison Rachel’s (of Honeymoan fame) vocals be part of the main melody, it allows the band to create a brighter sound that reverberates throughout the track. Rachel’s vocals also act as a palate cleanser to the music’s highly emotional yet fast riffing, allowing the listener to enjoy whatever emotions seem to come through. Towards the end of the track, the music becomes an echo, as if passing through waves and then it slowly starts to taper off. It reminds me of how we perceive memory, where every time you reminisce about something, the memory becomes unfocused and blurrier than before. This theme follows with the final track of the album, “Paean Emerging,” where that haziness takes front and center and makes the atmosphere thicker with anticipation. As a closing track, “Paean Emerging” is where Constellatia shines as musicians, as the composition is lush and vibrant and makes great use of what sounds like strings acting as great tonal touches. This song is where the passion lies, where everything we have been hearing since “Palace” has been building towards. The most romantic thing about this song is how vulnerable it can make the listener feel – to simply let go of their own pride and just feel the onslaught of music that makes the heart sing is truly an experience.
As an album whose premise is a look into the spectrum of human emotion, Magisterial Romance is, deep down, a vulnerable piece of music that is expertly composed and played. While the bulk of its vulnerability lies with its lyricism, the music also makes you feel this vulnerability. I have yet to find the words about how Magisterial Romance makes me feel, but I do think that, in order to fully experience this album, one must leave all their expectations at the door.
Magisterial Romance will be available November 11 on Season of Mist. For more information on Constellatia, visit their Facebook page.