Album Title: Spellbinder
Label: Black Lion Records
Date of Release: 21 April 2023
Normally the preserve of Scandinavia, Germany, and parts of the US, it is great to be able to bring you a debut album from a UK-based black metal band, Gyrdleah. As is the way with a lot of black metal entities, Gyrdleah is less a band, and more a solo enterprise, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Flagrum, who calls Birmingham his home. Following in the footsteps of a rich heavy metal heritage from the city and its surroundings, Gyrdleah offers something a little different from the doom metal of Black Sabbath, the NWOBHM of Judas Priest, and the grindcore of Napalm Death. Indeed, based on the content of ‘Spellbinder’, Flagrum instead plunders the rich vein that is loosely referred to as atmospheric black metal.
‘Spellbinder’ is one of those records that takes some considerable time to work its magic, leaving the listener working hard to uncover all of the gems that lay hidden within the music. And that’s quite impressive given that the nine-track record doesn’t apparently do anything out of the ordinary. As with much of the ‘atmospheric’ black metal sphere, the music of Gyrdleah is less interested in all-out speed, although there are moments to be heard, spearheaded by the only other musician involved, session drummer Alex Micklewright. Instead, the focus of the songwriting is placed around creating moods, and of taking the listener on a journey.
In the case of Gyrdleah and Flagrum, this journey carries up into some very gloomy, dark, and foreboding recesses, where heaven-knows-what might lurk, ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey. ‘Spellbinder’, therefore, is an album that should be listened to in the winter, allowing the cold and impenetrable walls of uncompromising sounds to echo the untamed and bleak weather outside. Naturally then, I’m listening to it on the eve of summer, as the day get longer, and the weather turns warmer. Mind you, with the coldness of this music, I might just save on the air conditioning.
The opening track, ‘Stab The Lamb’, is a great indicator of what’s to come across the album, and a fine track in its own right. It begins slowly, with nasty distorted guitars in the semi-distance. From there, the pace is ponderous, the riffs twisting and writhing around a doom-like framework, allowed to resonate, with the bass poking through the space. I like the way in which the song switches to all-out frenetic attack, too, with fast riffing and charging drums bringing the more traditional black metal elements to the fore. Flagrum’s voice is venomous, with an acidic mid-to-high scream/growl, perfectly suited to the aural soundscapes surrounding him. Towards the end of the song, the pace slows again, and in comes a melody that’s understated and simple, but ever more powerful with repeated listens. The sounds of crows at the death just underlines the bleakness of the music.
‘GYFU’ follows and it’s an absolute beauty, an elegant and poignant melody emerging from the very beginning, almost ever-present, and forming an icy vein through the entire composition. I love the bold but simple bass lines too within this song, but it is that central melody that is the most important and enjoyable factor of the song for me; devastatingly gloomy, but emotional and majestic in its simplicity.
The melodic sensibilities of Gyrdleah rise to the fore again within ‘Gathered For The Murder’, another sensational slab of slow, inexorable atmospheric black metal. The gravitas that it carries despite its apparent simplicity is wholly impressive, and I love the fact that even when the pace is upped, the stubborn melody remains at the heart of the song. The drums may be thundering past, and the bass may be rumbling rapidly, but that simple guitar-led melody just stubbornly ploughs on, beguiling me as it does so. The more I listen to the track, the more I hear within it, as it’s definitely one of the most multi-layered and involved of the songs in spite of its apparent straightforwardness.
To switch things up a touch, and to really inject a sense of evil, and oppressive darkness, the duo of ‘Approaching Gyrdleah’ and ‘VVitch’ cannot be ignored. The former is a 90 second instrumental interlude at the midway point, but it spends this time unleashing an uncomfortable, disturbing synth-led dirge, enhanced by the echoing and haunting sound of bells. There’s something unmistakeably English about this piece, as if recorded on a misty, murky morning in the middle of nowhere. The latter is an example of how to build a song, from sparse beginnings to all-out demonic attack, with falls of sound crashing through the speakers. The drums at points within the onslaughts are easily the fastest and most penetrating on the album. And I love the chorus of writhing, tortured demonic voices at the end, as if hell itself threatens to burst open from the depths.
Not content to sit back and rest on any laurels, Flagrum then seeks to add in some clean vocals with ‘Six Hundred Threescore And Six’. Essentially meaning ‘666’, this track has a much more sombre, almost Gothic feel to it as the clean vocals are dripping with melancholy, a little reminiscent of mid-era Paradise Lost in terms of the vocal tone and delivery. The song itself is both sufficiently melodic, and harsh, mainly plundering a strong, commanding mid-slow tempo, with accents of doom metal within it for good measure. The shrieks and growls still sound depraved, working well with the lumbering, sinister atmosphere that surrounds the song.
Overall, there is so much to enjoy with this debut full-length from Flagrum under the Gyrdleah moniker. I really like the way in which the music sounds properly nasty but also strangely welcoming, melodic, and very hypnotic in places. Listen superficially, and you might be lulled into thinking that ‘Spellbinder’ is a rather simplistic beast. Listen more carefully, and in time you’ll be both rewarded and proved wrong with your initial appraisal, just as I was. Suitably extreme and beautiful, Gyrdleah has delivered a very impressive debut indeed. I look forward to what comes next.
The Score of Much Metal: 87%