Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hail Spirit Noir - Oi Magoi [2014]

Nocturnal glazes. Witches chanting out by barren vistas of frozen mountains. Hordes of demons. Spitting on the crucifix. Clandestine altars and masochistic rituals in underground compartments. These are, broadly speaking, the majority of the images conjured by the majority of the today's black metal bands. To some, the ceaseless blasphemy, the witch-haunts and the Satan-worshiping is not a problem. In fact, many avid listeners still enjoy them. Looking at this with a different perspective, though, one might easily notice that the cliches are getting more and more redundant, an ever-meandering series of garden variety bands popping up as if in columns, sneering with the corpse-paint firmly attached to their face. I mean, come on. How long has it been since Possessed released their debut? Forget Possessed; it's been twenty years since the first genre-defining masterpieces were released by means of the Scandinavian grandfathers. There are still a handful of bands that can embrace the atmospheric platitude with a certain degree of quality at their hands, throwing in a fairly original bunch of pastiches, but beyond sundry goods, the number of bands who are really, I mean really stepping up the game for black metal are limited. That said, Greece supported some pretty cool bands in the past. Outside of having cathartic groups like Septic Flesh that coagulated in the 90's and continue to expand on their sound today, Greece housed Necromantia, Rotting Christ, and a few others that really helped define the traditional Greek black metal sound.

So, what makes Hail Spirit Noir unique is that they're not only defiant against the promulgation of their countrymen but also against pretty much any other band that existed and continues to exist in the scene. Perhaps what makes me like these guys the most is their handling of black metal as if it were an entirely different genre, with little regard whatsoever about the advancements of their contemporaries and their ancestors. Hail Spirit Noir sparked up attentions with the unwarranted advent of their debut ''Pneuma'', which caused something of a minor explosion in the underground, but they were pretty much idle for the remainder of 2012 and 2013, as if waiting to pounce of a host of unsuspecting listeners with the meticulous conducts of their obviously higher-caliber sophomore ''Oi Magoi'', which is easily one of the best records of 2014, even if the year has only spanned little over a month by now. The debut featured much potential, but I still thought it was impeded by a certain adherence to traditional sounds which ultimately begat an album that was good, but it still had its dull moments. ''Oi Magoi'' waists no time getting to the fucking point which ''Pneuma'' was somewhat shy to jump onto. It's almost as though after two years' salvage of influences, and an even more laborious plotting of compositions and waiting, the Greeks just capitulated to the vastness of their inventiveness, letting loose and giving not a single fuck about it.

What makes ''Oi Magoi'' so original? Nearly all its aspects, I daresay. To be honest I was somewhat filled with trepidation before entering the record, and much of that curious resentfulness pervaded my first spin. Though I unquestionably enjoyed and accepted the sheer imagination and musical proficiency of the Greeks, I found the songs a tad too lengthy for my taste. Then, came the second, third and fourth listens, and all my wild wonder and astonishment that preceded them. In truth, the base formula that they're using is not too complicated for any modern connoisseur of black metal; a great, even somehow lively ship, mooring the expanses and palettes of 70's psychedelia, prog rock and, of course, black metal; but the funny fact is that the most apparent aspect of black metal on this record is Theoharis' manic, septic vocal deliveries, which are more sneering and crisp than a regular, Ihsahn-esque timbre, and not the grainy, lightweight guitar tone. That aside, ''Oi Magoi'' merely plays according to all these genres and sub-genres. The spectrum of instruments and implementations is at such a startlingly wide range that the Greeks are enviably bordering a new sub-genre; the closest thing to ''Oi Magoi'' out of the entirety of metal's catalog are the Fins Oranssi Pazuzu and their beautifully indulgent mix of psychedelia and oozing black metal. ''Oi Magoi'' is still different because there's less of a sense of languor and a more folksy, acute sound that succeeds mostly because of the brazen incorporation of copious sounds that should be alien to most listeners.

We're talking organs straight out of the 70's and 60's, wheezing medleys of psychedelic rock, flutes, and who knows what other oddities, stretched against a tableau of vile but energetic, tempered black/thrash chord progressions. Sure, there are a few moments in the rich 49 minutes of run-time that hold appeal as straightforward, relatively atmospheric chord formations, like the excellent chorus of ''Hunters'', but these moments are scarce; this is a band who's much less in the favor of plus-10 minutes of droning, cascading chords encapsulations, like much of today's atmospheric black metal market (think Agalloch, Austere, Midnight Odyssey, etc.), and more keen to push the listener right into a cliff of their incredible, imaginative vistas. ''The Mermaid'' is the perfect example to this, laden with everything from piano-infused guitar chugs to synthesizers and traditional sounds unknown to me. It is perhaps a tad too long, but so full of riches and poignant moments that one is instantly swayed to an almost unfaltering heaven of hazy, riff-loaded psychedelia, strident bass lines flowing like butter through the unreal orchestral escapades. ''Demon For A Day'' is even better, being the one of the ''hit-songs'' of the record along with ''Blood Guru'' and ''Hunters'', but even more phenomenal is ''Satan Is Time'', which comes with a somewhat unorthodox song structure, but luring all my attention with its magical gamut of funereal tension and a slew of excellent guitar work, not to mention some of the most enduring lyrics I've heard in a good while:

We float in space and follow the pace
of a clock designed by His Will
Satan shall reap what God has sown
Blackness comes, colors go

You run, you hide but Satan can find the cowards
that live by His side
The needle rotates, a lie it creates,
but then it stands still and kills
If heaven is here, it will stay here
Hell is a place full of clocks

Satan is time
Ο διάβολος είναι ο χρόνος
Ο χρόνος είναι ο διάβολος

Hail Spirit Noir strikes win, win and win on ''Oi Magoi''. I could go on and laud this record for paragraphs upon paragraphs, but I'll try to keep it short. This is a record which is consistent as well as unexpected, unprecedented - a rare mixture to have in our modern day. A profound admiration and understanding of their own folk-induced sound, and a prevailing sense of originality makes this album a real gem, and one that simply can't be disparaged within a decade, let alone a few years from now. True, like nearly all albums, it has its flaws, some minute weaknesses such as the slightly overextended duration and the the lack of memorability in some of the more basic progressions - where there were so many great and catchy sequences - but that doesn't mean ''Oi Magoi'' isn't terrific, far from it. But there are so few bands in the current scene capable of living up to such a level of imagination and masterful musical blending as these guys that I may as well say it shines just about all the way through. It's just a few slivers away from perfection, something that the band will wrap up effortlessly in their following masterwork, I hope, whatever that may be.

Oi Magoi
Satan Is Time
Demon For A Day

Rating: 93%

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