Black Metal has always occupied a strange space within the metal scene. It’s arguably the most extreme and abrasive subgenre with the most nihilistic, hate-fuelled spirit, and yet – from its inception – it’s been tempered by a mysterious serenity and an earnest emotional core. There’s a melancholic, other-worldly beauty to all the best Black Metal, from the trancelike dissonance of Raw Black Metal to the layered classical arrangements of Symphonic Black Metal and back. It’s a difficult, contradictory beast and one that’s increasingly hard for new artists to ride. The conventions are deeply established and, as a genre built on a musical, aesthetic and ideological “purity”, it’s hard to produce something new and interesting while still being Black Metal. On the other hand, just churning out the same old tremolo-picking lo-fi noise gets tiresome and lacks spirit.
With her stunning debut album, Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry, one-woman project Hulder managed to create one of the most engaging and exciting Black Metal albums in recent memory. Conceptually rich, Godslastering created a fictional world that it used to examine dark philosophical themes, all set to a soundtrack of blazing riffs, thunderous drums, atmospheric keyboards, baroque flourishes, and fierce screaming vocals. The production showed a step up from her rawer early EPs and the songwriting evolved with it. The question was, where to go next? What else was left?
The Eternal Fanfare answers that question with force. It builds on the sonic layering of Godslastering and creates a five-song twenty-six-minute journey into a darkness so enticing, you’ll never want to leave. Thematically, the songs deal with a loose concept of the search for a place within the natural realm, taking in an acceptance of the concept of “evil” and, ultimately, a descent into Hell (literal or figurative), from which to emerge stronger.
Musically, it follows a similarly gruelling path. The serene opener, Curse From Beyond evokes Dying Sun era Dead Can Dance before erupting into a full-on Black Metal assault with The Burden of Flesh and Bone. It doesn’t let up the onslaught of riffs and shrieks until A Perilous Journey slows things to an almost-doomlike pace for an epic finale with some incredible Lisa Gerrard-like vocals coming back to the fore. The choral vocals are a deft touch that have the effect of making you want to go straight back to Curse From Beyond and start the whole thing again (at which point, you can appreciate all the other – many – deft touches scattered throughout).
Musically, The Eternal Fanfare is first-rate. The sheer number of savage riffs thrown out per song is astonishing and the keyboards fit beautifully over the top, creating a soundscape both as aggressive and cosmically evocative as all the best second wave Black Metal. However, it’s the emotional punch of The Eternal Fanfare that really hits hard. In TDIM’s recent interview with Hulder, she stated that her intention with Black Metal is to draw the physical and the metaphysical world together and find a grounding to the natural world, rather than simply providing an escape from it, and there’s scarcely been a better time to explore such ideas.
There probably aren’t many people who’d say that the 2020s are a great time to be alive but The Eternal Fanfare offers a means of empowerment against the barrage of grimness that litters our daily lives. Yes, this is an angry, bleak record but perhaps what sets it apart from its Black Metal peers is that it offers a form of hope. Godslastering was an echo from a time long past, but The Eternal Fanfare brings it kicking and screaming into a new, self-defined present. Its light in the darkness is literally finding light through darkness, learning to embrace the horror and the trauma and our collective grief, then asserting our existence, as triumphant as the riffs on The Eternal Fanfare. The songs here offer a dark kind of solace but a solace nonetheless.
It’s just twenty-six minutes but there’s more music, more energy, more thought and more feeling pouring out of this Mini-LP than can be found in most albums two or three times its length. Essential stuff for any fan of extreme metal. 9/10
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