Album Title: Black Flame Eternal
Label: Season Of Mist
Date of Release: 26 May 2023
I reviewed the debut album from Cloak, ‘To Venomous Depths’ back in 2017, and was reasonably impressed by it as I recall. But I missed the follow-up that arrived two years later as it coincided with a lengthy hiatus from the site as personal matters took precedence for a fair while. Apparently, ‘The Burning Dawn’ was, by all accounts widely praised, so I wasn’t prepared to miss the opportunity to hear ‘Black Flame Eternal’, the third full-length of Cloak’s career to date.
A reasonably stable line-up has meant that only bassist Billy Robinson is not a founding original member of the quartet, although this will be his second outing with Cloak, nonetheless. Remaining in place are the trio of drummer Sean Bruneau, guitarist Max Brigham, and guitarist/vocalist Scott Taysom.
The consistency in personnel means too, that I am not at all surprised by what comes out of the speakers to assault my ears. Once again, the Georgians from Atlanta have crafted an album that’s black metal at its core, but which seeks to offer more than just this in their overall sound. What I hear has elements taken from both sides of the Atlantic. On the one hand, there’s an undeniable echo of the likes of Watain to their approach, whilst there’s an equally audible nod to the likes of latter-day Dissection and Satyricon, with the odd hint of Behemoth for good measure.
What I also like about ‘Black Flame Eternal’ is that the Americans are not afraid to nibble at the edges of the black metal genre, too, veering into slightly different territory as they do so. An immediate example of this would be with ‘Eye Of The Abyss’. It is a generally slower song, but whilst it contains the rasping vocals that are most familiar with Cloak, in comes a few quieter, whispered vocals that give the song a hint of Gothic splendour about it. The heightened melodic nature of the song, bass and drum segment, and wailing lead guitar solo will only enhance those Gothic parallels, but I stress that this doesn’t lessen the overall bite and attack. In fact, because it blends the heaviness so well with the melody, it quickly becomes a personal favourite.
I’m also a fan of ‘Seven Thunders’. Thick, claustrophobic synths bathe the opening lone guitar riff before thunderous drumming and commanding bass enter the fray. I really like the atmosphere that’s created as the song takes around a minute or so to build and grow, as it compliments the richness of the composition as a whole. Don’t expect wall-to-wall blast beats on ‘Black Flame Eternal’, by the way, although this is one of the faster tracks that, when it isn’t skipping along, does allow Sean Bruneau to break out the double pedal action. Just after the halfway mark, the song opens into a glorious lead guitar-led melody, again experimenting with cleaner vocals as it continues.
Much of the material, however, requires a few more spins to allow them to get under your skin and sink in. The opening track, ‘Ethereal Fire’ is a prime example of this. At first, it felt a little bit underwhelming for whatever reason. But that’s far from the truth of the matter as it turns out though, as it stands as a powerful and positive first chapter for ‘Black Flame Eternal’. Featuring some of the most urgent and fast material on the record, it sees those fast-picked riffs dancing with vibrant rhythms, only for the pace to be reduced in favour of something more melodic and groovier, albeit nowhere near as immediate as other songs. I have grown to love it, as the atmospheres really start to come to the fore the more familiar it becomes, whilst I notice much more prominently the use of strong symphonics as the tracks nears its conclusion.
Another track that becomes stronger with repeated spins is the impressive ‘Shadowlands’. At the outset, there’s a feeling that the Americans are deliberately taking their foot off the metal pedal in favour of something more nuanced. The drumming in the opening stages is incessant, but in a softer manner, whilst the guitars sound pared back, as if simply providing part of the background atmosphere; an atmosphere that’s dense, claustrophobic, and full of drama, yet refined as if seeking to attack the listener in a more subtle way. Initially undecided, it has slowly become a personal high point of the album.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, there are tracks like ‘Invictus’ and ‘The Holy Dark’ that, whilst still alive with moments of melody and catchy material, also contain sections of rabid power and sharp attack. In the case of the latter, there are stronger orchestral and choral effects built in to create greater presence and drama. However, it isn’t overused so as to saturate the track, or detrimentally shift the focus of the song.
We all know that there are many within the black metal fraternity who are incredibly conservative and traditional, and so this varied approach from Cloak is something of a gamble, because they are certain to alienate some of their followers as a result. For my personal tastes though, ‘Black Flame Eternal’ is a success, and I have grown to really enjoy it. Yes, there are occasions when the material veers a little too close to others within the genre – Watain and Dissection most notably – but there is no denying the fact that this third album from Cloak is a strong one regardless, that offers plenty for the more open-minded black metal fan, as well as those who enjoy their heavy metal with a little more bite.
The Score of Much Metal: 82%