Album Title: Corrosion Of Hearts
Label: Prophecy Productions/Lupus Lounge
Date of Release: 28 April 2023
How is it that when the weather starts to turn, and the sun comes out, I start rediscovering my love for the darker, more melancholy side of metal? It makes no sense, but then, it’s arguable that nothing I do makes any sense. Having said that, it’s the same scenario for Austere too, in many ways. How do you live in Australia, one of the hottest, sunniest countries on Earth, and end up playing melancholy atmospheric black metal that’s heavily influenced by the Norwegian scene? I’m leaving that as a rhetorical question because, frankly, I don’t care how this happened. Instead, I’m going to enjoy this reality for all it is worth.
In terms of a little background, Austere is a duo comprised of Mitchell ‘Desolate’ Keepin and
Tim ‘Sorrow’ Yatras. Keepin is the guitarist and, Yatras is the drummer, with keys and vocals then shared between the two. ‘Corrosion of Hearts’ is my first foray into the dark, foreboding world of Austere, but that’s hardly surprising seeing as this third album is the duo’s first since 2009, having gone on hiatus shortly after releasing their sophomore effort, ‘To Lay Like Old Ashes’. Whatever the reason for the eventual return, I’m grateful, as this is a very fine album, indeed.
Consisting of only four songs, but lasting in excess of 45 minutes, Austere are content to take their time to build up atmosphere and moods within lengthy, drawn-out compositions. If you’re looking for black metal that is wall-to-wall blastbeats, fast-paced riffing, and uncompromising, brutal attacks to the senses, then this isn’t the album for you. For that kind of thing, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
That’s not to say that the music on ‘Corrosion Of Hearts’ is not heavy, extreme, or worthy of the ‘black metal’ description, because it most definitely is. But the Austere way is more measured, more nuanced, and altogether more beautiful. The guitar riffs are slower, but they are blessed with a sound that makes them frosty and melancholy, but also irresistibly beautiful. Some of the lower notes are satisfyingly deep and crunchy which, alongside the generally slower pace, creates a bit of a death/doom vibe. The production has sufficient clarity without fully abandoning the raw edges that black metal so often relishes. The keys are not over-the-top in a Dimmu Borgir way either; in fact, they are often incredibly subtle, vaguely audible over the other instrumentation. They are there to add depth and texture that is sometimes only noticeable when it ceases to exist at points within the songs.
The vocals are another strength of Austere too, as they run the entire heavy metal gamut, from clean and tortured, to barely discernible whispers, to rasping growls and shrill shrieks.
Being a sucker for beautiful melodies, I knew that ‘Corrosion Of Hearts’ would be a winner from the moment I heard the opening thirty seconds or so of the opening song, ‘Sullen’. A gentle guitar melody is plucked from the outset, underscored by sounds that conjure up an unforgiving and barren wasteland. When the full instrumentation enters the fray, that melody remains, only heavier, and with greater purpose, whilst growled vocals assault the ears, the drums lay out an inexorable beat, and lead guitar lines add extra poignancy to the melodies. The miserable emotion and melodic intent immediately draws parallels with the blackgaze movement, the likes of Alcest coming to mind. I also hear elements of early Katatonia, too, but these are intermingled with any number of Norway’s finest black metal exports. Whilst initially fearing the song might end up being a little one-dimensional, it is anything but; it is laced with subtle changes, embellishments, and varied vocals throughout. Make no mistake though, the central melody that runs like a poisoned vein through the core of the song is utterly stunning, addictive, and completely beguiling.
The keys play a slightly more prominent role within ‘A Ravenous Oblivion’, arguably my least favourite of the four songs. It isn’t a bad song at all, and I particularly like the more thunderous drumming at points and the increased grandiosity that the keys provide. However, the more melodic sensibilities of the previous song are dialled back ever so slightly. This is bound to please those hardier souls, as the atmosphere remains rampant, as does the sense of fragility and melancholy, to create a rather oppressive track, albeit in a positive way.
What I then love about ‘The Poisoned Core’ is the way in which the guitars feel more menacing, and more hard-hitting. The tone of the chords at various points is more muscular, and sinister sounding, partly because the pace allows for the notes to linger more than the more regular faster-picked riffing normally allows. The song has a greater doom-like quality to it, despite the undoubted black metal trappings. Additionally, the chosen melodies are relatively simple, but enhance that overall feeling of unease, darkness, and malevolence; it’s less melancholy, but it creates a great dynamic on the album as a whole.
The final track of the four is entitled ‘Pale’ and it’s a companion piece to the opener insofar as it is another melodic black metal powerhouse with strong blackgaze tendencies, full of simple but beautifully heart-breaking melody that carries with it significant poignancy. At the outset, the vocals are gentle, clean, and along with the music, very hypnotic. The song builds to an urgent mid-section, before calming and releasing in the latter stages into more captivating melody, pulling us to the close of the album in glorious fashion, offering melancholy but also a hint of hope buried deep within, too.
You already know that I love this record, and you’d be right. This has everything that I want to hear in this kind of music. I’d have loved another song or two, but then the overall enjoyment might have been compromised through fear over overdoing things. I’ll therefore, on balance, settle for the four tracks, because they are all marvellous examples of expertly crafted and beautifully emotive atmospheric black metal. Welcome back Austere!
The Score of Much Metal: 91%