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This, for me, is the 'defining' Demoncy recording, because I believe it contains this band's best material (or the best I have heard, so far), and because this was actually the first Demoncy album I ever heard. This music, it seems to me, differs from the recordings on 'Joined in Darkness' in both obvious directions and different, more subtle ways. The obvious: there are keyboards on this, which are played perfectly, as I think keyboards should be played in black metal: that is, as a sort of background accompaniment adding depth, emotion, and harmonic substance to the guitars. Also, in black metal at least, I think that the tones used in the synths (the actual sounds and registers) are just as vital as anything else, and here we have another excellent example of the judicious and, one should say, proficient use of tones. What it all comes down to is knowing what will benefit the atmosphere of one's songs and what will detract from them, much like in sculpture where it is as important to know what to leave out of the art as it is to know what to include. In Demoncy's material I believe what is left out of the total picture is vitally important, as it gives you a good idea of their personal aesthetics: what they consider to be worthy of notice. The guitars on this release are also a bit faster than on 'Joined in Darkness', weaving eloquently through beautifully dark and personally expressive melodies, with a treble, high tone that allows the keyboards to fill the harmonic spaces in between them.
What sets this album apart from me, apart from 'Joined in Darkness' and from most of the other black metal bands out there today, is the atmosphere that these melodies evoke: it is very eloquent, persuasive, emotional, and rich, filled with mystery and the tints or shadows of melancholy, grief, anger, bitterness, and a dozen other less obvious inspiring emotions. Whereas 'Joined in Darkness' is almost the musical definition of 'obscure black metal', given over to the grave and to utter blasphemy, darkness, and ruin, this is a much more varied effort that highlights different aspects of this band's musical talent and their ability to compose songs that touch the listener on different planes other than the 'darkest'. For me, this is a much dreamier, eloquent Demoncy, given over to the pleasures of melancholy, the remembrance of things past, fading now, turning to dust, the memories of ancient empires, past lives, etc. Whereas 'Joined...' could be seen as the musical equivalent of War, perhaps, as a personal Avatar of Death on Ixithra's part, the corpse-guard that destroys in the name of the slumbering emperors of Demoncy that rule them and their destiny, spreading plague and fire, this album seems to comprise (or illustrate) the dark hallways of the emperor's dreams themselves, flying and shifting from realm to realm, from age to age, time to time. There is only the barest of stylistic similarities or affinities shared by these songs, if you listen to them long enough to determine their originality. As such, each separate song is like a reverie, a picture or tableau displaying an original and newly-conceived atmosphere: a time, a place, an event, a sweep of emotion, a story in itself, and the material included here rewards multiple listens on one's part with ever-new and vital reflections. Magnificent.
The first three songs on this release, forming a veritable 'triptych' of supreme artistic craftmanship and melodic power, are probably the three best black metal songs I have ever heard. Hyperbole? Not even close. Again, what is the most impressive in these songs is not their understated style, form, or structure (I don't think Demoncy would ever put form over content, like so many other bands) but the sheer beauty and expressive emotion of the dark melodies included within. If your soul remains unmoved by the first two songs (especially the second) on this album, with their dexterous fluency and grasp of melodic style as well as the mesmerizing undertones of sadness (if not true despair) contained within, I don't really know why you are listening to this form of music. These songs strike directly to the heart of why musicians, in this day and age, compose this form of art: they are ripe with the fruits of darkness, filled with an epic grandeur, and are majestic as only the most pertinent art can be. They convince utterly. They are, in fact, saturated with such a powerful sense of longing (for escape, love, death, life, redemption, dreams, a final release?) that they are positively unnerving in their intensity.
I can only hope that this review will convince those of you who are still 'wary' of American black metal bands (isn't it about time we stopped being so nationalistic about music - an art that transcends all boundaries?) to at least stop for an hour or two and give yourself over to what this uniquely talented group has to say. I guarantee you will not be able to remain placid or 'neutral' in the face of this album's power. This album displays, to me, why black metal is widely considered the most powerful of musical forms, and I believe these songs are so persuasive, at the last estimate, that they are the best possible evidence for why black metal was invented in the first place. They are a summation of sorts, an end, a final summit. I applaud Ixithra and the rest of Demoncy for releasing this epic art into the public's notice, and I applaud the skill, determination, and pure musical talent that breathes in the dark spaces of this original release. What will the future bring for this band? Only time will tell.
The production on the first half of this release is thin and sparse to say the least. The guitar tone is tinny and atmospheric and calls to mind a slightly more spacious version of the infamous production values of Darkthrone’s ‘Transylvanian Hunger’, a comparison that I will make more than once. Bass is almost non-existent, but definitely their adding only hints of depth, much like crawling through a pitch dark tunnel only to occasionally catch a draft, hinting at some vast cave up ahead. As this is a few releases tacked together I should say something about the second half of this album, made up of two earlier demos. Well, production wise, it’s much worse. But one gets the sense that the poor production is a matter of necessity more than intent on these demos and unfortunately it crosses the line onto the wrong side of bad. I’m all for poor production values that add to the atmosphere and abrasiveness of black metal, but a line must be drawn where the music loses its essence, this is it. If the sound was cleaned up then some of the music would be enjoyable-if-a-little-typical black metal, but as these are of mere demo quality they are but a shadow of the first half of this release.
What of the music itself then? Again, this is a game of two halves, so it shall have to be reviewed as such. The first half, up to ‘Commencement of the Dark Crusade’ really shows Demoncy’s evolution from a fairly standard black metal outfit firmly in the Darkthrone camp regarding influence, into the dark, sinister and brooding beast that is the Demoncy we know and love today. The opening riff of track two, ‘Abysmal Shores of the Dark Lands Beyond the Sun’ (what a title) would sound so at home on ‘Transylvanian Hunger’ that I wouldn't be surprised if Ixithra tabbed some Darkthrone riffs and attached them to a half finished song of his own in shear desperation, forgetting that anyone would notice.
Leaving aside this most obvious of influences however, it is clear that he is trying to find his own voice on this record. Tempo changes and a hint of keyboards are stuck in from time to time and do add atmosphere. The end result is genuinely enjoyable black metal that, yes, is at times very derivative of the Norwegian school, but the same can be said for almost all black metal post 1990 to a greater or lesser degree. We are indeed introduced to many elements of more recent Demoncy that make this artist stand apart and define other pillars of American black metal such as Profanatica. These would be a less shrill guitar tone working its way through simple tremolo riffs that if played slowly on strings would sound like a horror film soundtrack; these are contrasted with doom passages of a more brooding nature. Both these very simple techniques are used to great effect and build into one another in a way that only Profanatica can match; this adds compositional complexity to music that is technically very simple. Drums are on the simple side, varying from mid-paced blast beats to very simple slow rhythms in the doom passages, this gives the moods and atmospheres of the music space to flow smoothly.
There is much less to say about the demo half of this album. I have heard demos of similar quality from the likes of Averse Sefira and Antaeus and I have to say none of it matches the atmosphere of the worst of the worst four tracks produced by Darkthrone or early Emperor. This is a shame, because if the music was given just a little more time and effort on this front I’m sure it would match up to the same standard found on the first half of this album. For all this negativity, it must be said I am no stranger to poor production values, and I have enough experience of this to tell that there is quality Demoncy going on here, beneath the fuzz, so I will recommend it to completists and people interested in the development of this artist.
In short ‘Within the Sylvan Realms of Frost’ shows an artist finding his voice. When he does we are treated to a more than decent slab of American black metal, when he fails we are treated to more than decent Norwegian influenced black metal in the style of Darkthrone. All this amounts to something well worth your time. On top of that there is a selection of demos that despite being released as part of the same album I choose to treat as bonus tracks for Demoncy connoisseurs only.