Album Title: …Of Light
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 27 May 2022
Today’s review allows me to indulge in something that I really like doing, namely write about a band that has self-released an album without the clout or backing of a record label. Whether by positive choice or necessity, it is still nice to be able to give over a little corner of the Internet to a band that might not be known about by large swathes of the heavy metal-buying public. The band in question go by the name of Stiriah, and ‘…Of Light’ is the third full-length release from this hitherto unknown Berlin-based black metal entity.
Formed back in 2007, it wasn’t until the band reformed in 2014 that they actually released any material. It began with the ‘Night Falls’ EP in 2015 and, with two subsequent full-lengths under their collective belts, 2017’s ‘Aurora’ and ‘Into The Depths’ (2020), they now bring us ‘…Of Light’, a six track, 45 minute sojourn into dark and foreboding black metal realms. As is often the way with black metal entities, the names of the musicians are hidden beneath pseudonyms. As such, I give you bassist/vocalist Cryst, drummer Ortok, and guitarist/vocalists Esgaroth and Tyrann, the quartet that comprises Stiriah.
The press release that accompanied this promo talks of emotional and ferocious black metal that ‘borders between the legendary sounds of the 90s and hypnotic soundscapes’. Having spent a great deal of time with the album, I can attest to the truth of these statements. ‘…Of Light’ is certainly a ferocious affair, with cold harsh riffing accompanied by plenty of blastbeats and frantic bass work to create a rather unforgiving soundscape. The hypnotic quality that’s referenced bears fruit as I have often been lulled into a bit of a trance-like state when listening to parts of this record. Much of this has to do with the pace of the music, and the way in which a lot of the music comes close to being cacophonic; when at their most savage and uncompromising, there is little let-up in the cold, precise attack that’s laced in dense, cloying atmosphere. However, if you listen hard enough, there is just that hint of melody to pull the music back from the brink of the abyss.
In actual fact, in the case of the opening track, ‘The Emergence Of Being’, there is more than just a hint of melody, making it arguably my personal favourite composition on the album. The atmosphere that feeds this music is immediately evident within the moody intro, as the sound of evil winds is slowly and deliberately joined by frigid riffs and a steady, pinpoint beat delivered at a slow tempo initially. The keys that bathe the song are well-placed and not overdone, whilst the vocals that accompany this sinister soundtrack are nasty, rasping screams in the main, although with three members of the band willing to lend their voices to proceedings, there are lower growls and higher-pitched screams as well. All of a sudden, the track picks up a bit of pace and, led by blastbeats and rumbling bass, the guitars create a really cool melody that has burrowed its way into my affections. There is even the inclusion of choir-like vocals later in the piece to increase the atmosphere nicely.
If I’m being entirely honest, which I’d suspect you’d want me to be, none of the remaining five songs hits the mark quite as firmly as this opening composition. It is a bit of a shame, but for my tastes, the opener is easily the best material on offer within ‘…Of Light’.
That being said, if you are more of a fan of the heavier, more aggressive side of black metal, ignore the last paragraph and read on. Whilst the opener is in no way a soft or fluffy affair, what is to follow is generally more aggressive and thunderous. And this approach begins immediately with ‘Drifting In The Sea Of Flames’ thanks to an audible intake of breath followed by a punishing scream and a blitz of hefty instrumentation delivered at a frenetic pace. There is a touch of melody to be heard deep in the bowels of the song, but it is far less overt and you have to go hunting for it, as it is generally held at bay by the uncompromising black metal battery that continues apace. There is an element of spoken word later in the song that allows a slight easing of the cacophony, but only briefly.
Admittedly, I do really like the old school feel of ‘Threatening Shadows’ and the way that it features those archetypal frosty lead guitar tones to create dissonant melody and atmosphere in equal measure. It is here that a word needs to be made towards the production because it is both clear and powerful, allowing the instrumentation to be heard, but without completely robbing the music of its sinister, organic atmosphere. Not all black metal fans will agree of course, but to me, the music is all the better for the increased clarity.
If any of the tracks are to threaten the opener for top billing, it’d be the final cut, ‘My Burden The Last Crown’, which offers increased melody in places, as well as a sense of malevolent groove. It is a great composition that builds on the atmospheres that appear within the album as a whole, but explores these in greater depth and detail as it draws the album to a close in ominous fashion.
When the album finally concludes, I have competing thoughts. On the one hand, I do wish that more of the compositions featured a greater use of overt melody, even briefly. But equally, I understand that this wasn’t in the grand scheme put together by Stiriah here. The German black metal band deliberately wanted to mix in the harshness and cacophonic elements to their music to create something both intriguing and disturbing alongside the brief touches of immediacy. And by and large, it is an approach that has worked. I have enjoyed listening to ‘…Of Light’ and would therefore have little hesitation in recommending it more widely.
The Score of Much Metal: 82%
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