In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
January isn’t even over yet and we’re already off to a great start to 2023. This edition of Second Circle focuses on two labelmates that take their respective spheres of the black metal world and expand them with some outside influences. Showcasing impressive songwriting and technical skills, Moonlight Sorcery and Inherits the Void demonstrate how black metal continues to push forward through and beyond the stars.
Emerging last year with the icy fury of a hyperborean blizzard, Finland’s Moonlight Sorcery absolutely blew my mind with their debut EP Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity — it even ended up as my AOTY. Less than a year later the trio have returned with Nightwind: The Conqueror from the Stars, a second EP of three original songs and one cover described as a “divergent path” recorded in the midst of working on their upcoming full-length. Deviating slightly from the symphonic black metal (with shred guitar) sound of their debut, this album retains the melodicism but is much more riff-focused — there’s such a tremendous influence from a now-defunct band of fellow Finns that it can’t be pure coincidence to my ears.
I recall reading a quote ages ago from the late Alexi Laiho talking about the early years of Children Of Bodom; he said every other extreme metal band of the late ’90s wanted to sound like Dimmu Borgir, and wanting to differentiate themselves is what led to the now-classic Bodom sound many of us grew up with and love. With Nightwind I feel like we’ve got an idea of what Bodom might’ve sounded like if they decided to become a symphonic black metal band — here Moonlight Sorcery have taken the black-meets-power metal of Frozen Eternity and incorporated some open string chugging, a bit more flashiness in the riffs, and even some gang-shout vocals for good measure. The highlight of the EP is third track “Constellations,” an instrumental whose guitar-keyboard interplay in the leads feels like something taken directly from the Follow the Reaper sessions over 20 years ago. Additionally there’s a glorious blast beat-backed chord progression in the final minutes of the song that I imagine will remain one of my favorite moments of music this entire year. I expect (and hope) that the full-length will return to the sound of the debut, but this EP is still a worthy side quest from these new heroes of the black metal realm.
French one-man act Inherits the Void present a more atmospheric and spacey type of black metal on their sophomore full-length The Impending Fall of the Stars. Although rooted in an atmoblack sound with walls of chords and mournful backing keyboards, there’s very little of the post-metal-inspired buildups you find in a lot of modern bands: the main draw of this album is the intense and ever-changing melodic riffing. This music is absolutely jam-packed with great melodies. Most black metal bands would shy away from having this many different riffs per song, but Inherits the Void move on to the next one without hesitation, while changing tempos effortlessly. This album shines brightest during moments of lightning-fast blast beats accompanying trem-picked melodies, with each blast serving as a signal to move on to the next note. The frenzied melodies layered on top of the atmospheric foundation prove to be a superb merging of these two schools of black metal.
Not content with just black metal influences, there’s also a healthy amount of melodic death metal-inspired headbanging riffage to top everything off — I challenge you to take a listen to the last several minutes of “Sullen Laments of the Wanderers” without managing at least a slight bob of the head. The final few tracks on the album even treat us to some lush keyboard melodies that serve as the perfect companion to the guitar wizardry. The best way to describe The Impending Fall of the Stars would be Mare Cognitum by way of Sacramentum or Vinterland; if this blackened fusion of modern spaceiness with classic ’90s melodicism sounds intriguing, you won’t want to miss this.