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Holy fucking wow. I knew that Cold Body Radiation is good, The Cold White Emptiness is some very genuine, lush post-black metal; but I didn't know that they would be THIS good when I heard Deer Twillight just two days ago (and have since listened to the album in full over 20 times). This album improved on everything their previous one lacked, added a few new things in along the way, and created a rich, airy sound at a level completely and utterly untouchable by any other post-black metal band. Since this dropped late in 2011 and I completely missed it the first time around, I'll just go ahead and say this is easily in my top five of 2012 and has nowhere to go but up.
In a lot of metal, the band's first record is often their best; this could be attributed to the band wanting to get every single idea and riff out there on the first try, as youthful bands are much more carefree and ambitious. However, in black metal, the sophomore album (or even subsequent works) are the ones I frequently see as the best; Pure Holocaust, Il Etait Une Foret, Nattens Madrigal, Autumn Aurora; that's a list I improvised literally now, there's tons more. It seems as though black metal bands need to take an album to create a raw concept and then on the second album evolve and expand on it; this, as you might have guessed, is what Cold Body Radiation did with Deer Twillight. The album feels much more fleshed out in terms of ideas; for example, while previously the drawn-out ambient segments of the songs felt lazy and an easy excuse to pad out a song, here they seem much more active, keeping the listener constantly involved as they take them deeper and deeper into the cosmic haze. The vocals have also really found their place in the music, twisting and turning their way about in the background of the music, adding more than they ever could if placed at the forefront of the mix. Every single last part of this album is carefully planned and executed; all the right notes are hit at all the right times with a precision and focus not seen in the previous album. The Cold White Emptiness has a very vague, hazy sound; Deer Twillight pays much more attention to detail in painting a very specific, yet at the same time a very vast landscape.
It's not just the attention to detail in the music itself; the artists from which Cold Body Radiation clearly draws inspiration have really been emulated in spirit more than in style. This album is a much more adventurous one in terms of genre cross-pollination than the debut- black metal is definitely focused on less, in fact, I'd hesitate to even call this a metal album honestly; the only song that feels entirely like at the very least a black metal-inspired song is "Concept of Forever", and even calling that song pure black metal is a stretch. Maybe it's just because I listen to a lot of My Bloody Valentine, Jesu and Sigur Ros, but I notice this band sharing elements with all three of those bands. "A Change of Pace" could be construed as a cover of MBV's "What You Want" if one wasn't paying attention; the clean vocals on this album are very, very much in the spirit of Broadrick (imitating all the key characteristics that make Broadrick's voice work so well in Jesu) and the use of the violin (or some similar-sounding stringed instrument, I can't be assed to find out) and the massive sound it creates shares a lot of parallels with Sigur Ros. Not only do they emulate all of those varieties of styles well, but they also tie them all into a unified, cohesive piece; Deer Twillight achieves the rare accomplishment of having an album with songs that can be listened to individually as well as part of an artistic whole.
Perhaps it's slightly easier to run through this album on a track-by-track; I know that's frowned upon here, but one must understand the nature of which this album is written. The album is very linear and clearly meant to be swallowed in one bite, as it often takes multiple songs to develop or build a theme- yet at the same time each track often has its own distinct style and influences that are easily noticeable. and The opening two tracks of this album really do nothing more than build tension; the title track really opens the gates and create a soundscape that feels huge despite how minimal it is; one instantly notices the similarity to Sigur Ros as well as the marvelous execution of the post-rock-crescendo style of songwriting. The song bleeds into the next track, "Make Believe", continuing to build more and more tension; it is in this track that we first hear the lovely, Jesu-esque clean vocals. They blend seamlessly into the music, and the resonance they have with the listener (read: me) is otherworldly. Spine-tingling. It's moments like this that were lacking on the debut- they had the general sound, but none of those moments that truly broke free and stuck with you, became a part of you.
Oh, but the best is yet to come! After exploring and experimenting a bit on "Make Believe", "The Night Reveals" may be up there as one of the greatest post-black metal songs ever written. The song shares the eerie, slightly macabre rocking style of Forgotten Woods' early years, Amebix's old-school methods of generating atmosphere through a brackish undercurrent of fuzz, modern post-rock and "post-black" bands, rhythm and pacing in the vein of Ride and the hazy atmosphere of Slowdive...it's all mixed in there. It's ridiculous how many bands and styles I just rattled off there, but they really are all comparable in one way or another- Cold Body Radiation could be described with all of those genre tags and none of them at the same time. They're a different beast entirely. instead of directly ripping off riffs, they weave the core emotions of each style into the fabric of M.'s vision. This is a song where each riff is a fully-devloped musical sentence that grows and grows, getting better and better until exploding into the next riff- every single second is captivating. If I had to pick a highlight of the album, it would be this song in its entirety. "Shimmer" is an ambient interlude, an entire track used to settle you down after the explosion that was "The Night Reveals". Not a lot is going on, but not a lot needs to, and there's a bit of wandering here and there in the song to keep your attention steady. "A Change of Pace" as previously mentioned, is a total ripoff of Loveless era My Bloody Valentine; however, it captures the same atmosphere extraordinarily well- no need to chide a band for doing a job correctly, interpreting it through their own framework. "Concept of Forever" could perhaps be the only song containing real, dominant metal riffs; and even then, they're light and airy enough to scare off anyone who frequently shops at Hells Headbangers- though anyone who does is unlikely to be reading this, I would think. The blastbeats that jump-start the song and drive it forward, whether real or programmed (who knows) are performed masterfully. Every element in this song is just so big, vacuous, filled with revitalizing energy and passion. I commented briefly on the vocals earlier, and I’d like to elaborate a bit more on them considering the use and placement of the harsh vocals is a highlight of this song. Whereas a lot of black metal in this general vein tends to put the vocals way at the front for reasons I still don’t quite understand, as it completely overpowers everything, all the listener’s focus is shifted to them (as we as humans tend to generally shift our focus to the most human elements of the song, i.e. the vocals) and the purpose of all the other instruments becomes muddled and buried as a result. Here, the vocals know their place in music like this- they cry out from the background, a residual voice that adds a slight inflection to the end of the riff, concludes all the statements the guitars make and answers the questions they ask. They’ve actually given the music MORE power by residing in the background because they allow it to speak for itself. That’s probably the same reason the lyrics here are more-or-less irrelevant; the vocals don’t need to speak because the music already has and the vocal lines are more based on texture and feel as opposed to wordplay and a strong commitment to diction and enunciation. It’s just one more layer of hazy textures on top.
“Yes, Maybe the Stars” (strange song title, I like the way it sounds though) closes out the album rather unceremoniously after the fiery, emotional, involved release that was “Concept of Forever”. It doesn’t leave the listener asking questions- it simply peacefully draws the album to a close after the wild ride it has taken you for. This is, no doubt, a very challenging listen- any album that isn’t constantly jumping through hoops or being flashy to grab your attention usually is, and this album has a lot of sparse sections that can often be hard to sit through without one’s mind drifting away from them; however, it only makes the experience all the more rewarding and all the more satisfying when finished. Deer Twillight is truly an album that captures the artist’s full potential; this man really has an innate understanding of black metal, post-rock, shoegaze, whatever you see in here- he really understand the core features and principles that make each genre what it is. Perhaps he already had that understanding when writing The Cold White Emptiness, but hadn’t quite figured how to translate those principles into his own art. Deer Twilllight obliterates every issue the debut had, which perhaps poses another question: This guy is two albums in and is still remarkably young- has he reached his prime yet? Is it possible for him to get even BETTER? This is an exciting time, and I’m already eager to see what this guy has in store for us next. In the meantime, I’ll be spinning this masterwork constantly, and if you want to see what post-black metal can be if done right, if you like the idea of Alcest but wish they actually had some semblance of testicles (disclaimer: I love Alcest), or if you’re a fan of atmospheric, powerful music (aka everyone, I should hope) then you should absolutely give this a shot.