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The marriage of black metal to the many faces of progressive rock is probably not a novelty by the second decade of the 21st century. Bands like Enslaved were early adopters of the hybrid, but it is one that has never ceased to enthrall me personally, since I possess no aversion whatsoever to all the mixing and matching if it provides me a fresher listening experience. No, it won't always work, it won't always distribute evenly enough to gel the styles, but then a gem like Hail Spirit Noir comes along and redefines just how much this mutual integration can become its own, seamless form. More than so many other bands, I don't listen through Pneuma or its brilliant younger sibling Oi Magoi as if they 'clash'. Contrast, yes, but the Greeks make it all sound so natural that I wonder why the two weren't a whole in the first place. As if this very record could have existed somewhere in the late 70s, the product of some guys with huge imaginations who might not have had the vocal talents of an Osbourne, Dio or Halford, so instead retreated to the deep Underground, providing quasi-soundtracks for unreleased Hammer horror flicks.
Oi Magoi was ultimately my favorite metal record of 2014, but listening back to this, I can't honestly tell you it was that massive an improvement. Catchier, perhaps, but the genius bastardization of genre was already in full flux a couple years earlier. Lots of 'expected' folksy and proggy instruments here, like organs and old synths, loads of cleaner guitars performed with a bluesy tinge, crested by Theoharis disgusting harsh vocal and his wavering, accented cleans which often seem like a Hellenic Nick Cave or Johnny Cash hovering over the edge of perdition. Chords contribute to slower, dramatic riff progressions here that almost feel strangely Beatles-esque, only if you the Fab Four had ingested countless mushrooms and frolicked naked in the fields within satyr-nymph love trysts. Pneuma possesses an idyllic and ugly dual nature which is captivating through the end, even when a few of the individual riffs might not shine as much as the overall work; there's even a tint of trashy old Cleopatra Gothic vibe in a handful of the tunes like "Let Your Devil Come Inside" which in at least a few spots sounds like Christian Death or Mephisto Walz performing occult rock. I couldn't tell you if that were some conscious decision, but the real wealth of Pneuma is in that esoteric reaction.
I'm also reminded pretty often of Nocturno Culto, especially his presence in the band Sarke, where you get those raw, unfettered post-Frost vocals mired in some fuzzy, caustic primal metal chord patterns ("Against the Curse, We Dream"), but they really evade so many direct comparisons to any one source because you just never have any idea of what will happen next. Some parts seem like Opeth if they were much better at evoking that archaic prog rock nostalgia, only tainted with the fabric of nightmares; others are more fluidly black metal, just the really fundamental kind that groups like Vultyr shat forth in their own aspirations to rewrite the script. I would actually go so far as to say that, while there aren't songs here nearly so evocative as "Satan is Time", this debut is a fraction more consistent in construction than the followup. Great drums, nuttier percussion, fuzzy and spurious little lead harmonies, variation everywhere, even in the track lengths. An amazing debut that sets up what I dearly hope with be a lengthy career in which the experimentation and fusion never ends.
One of the biggest and most fortunate surprises I had this year in my venture for different musical experiences was the debut album by Hail Spirit Noir, the new project by members of the already established avant-garde act Transcending Bizarre?. Strangely as it may seem I actually learned about this outsourcing or theirs while exchanging emails with Haris, and I do have to thank him for opening my eyes to something that could’ve passed by without me noticing it. Once you enter the quirky world created by this band everything you’ve known so far about fusion of counterposing genres will sound obsolete by comparison. Pneuma sounds retro in its olden and warm sound brought by analog recording techniques, while at the same time being extremely forward-thinking due to the appliance of different components that range from progressive rock, black metal and a constant psychedelic veil. This is indeed a bizarre album that screams unconventional words at your ears with every passing moment, and with each new stroke of brilliance you never feel tired or fatigued as every new turn is different from the one preceding it.
Heralding the coming of weirdness is the uncanny start of the opener, “Mountain Of Horror”, with its ritualistic voodoo suddenly going for the jugular with a mid-paced black metal feel that is completely awkward in its presentation. The sound of synthesizers suddenly arriving from the seventies is bizarre, as is the constant progression of the song that seems intended on not repeating itself anymore, flowing endlessly into more and more psychedelic moments. You try to find its conducting stream which only returns by the third minute to present you with the initial riff and finally a repeating pattern. Unconventional is a word that jumps at your mind and this feeling will be constantly returning throughout the entire album. But apart from unconventional there’s another aptly applied word to describe this album, and that is “catchy”. “Let Your Devil Come Inside” thoroughly demonstrates this with a theatrical fusion of clean singing and enticing melodies, rasped black metal screams, a tripped out psychedelic xylophone and a parade of blast beats, all put together in a cacophony that never meanders beyond the threshold of cohesion. I mean, what the hell is this and why is it so catchy? Why can’t I stop tapping my foot and nodding my head to the entrancing opening segment of “Against The Curse, We Dream” and its fantastic upbeat rhythm that comes back again and again? How is it possible to mix all these elements without the music feeling even a little bit disjointed or over the top? What kind of drugs have they been taking? The questions remain...
As I said above with every passing song Pneuma blooms into something different, as if the album was travelling through different time periods and embracing different sensations. “When All Is Black” is a marvelous and melodious ballad that wouldn’t be too far off from a Hollywod musical, weren’t it not for the foul snarls and more intense middle section, and it stands as one of the best songs here by featuring brilliant progressive mini-climaxes that are bound to leave you in awe. The most debatable song would have to be “Into The Gates Of Time” for its elongation of ideas that end up dispersed through several minutes of nothing but crickets in the background. Although the song looses itself a bit towards the end its initial segment is very good, presenting a beautiful use of synths that laden an intense duet composed of cleans and raspy snarls, as if it were two facets of the same personality clashing and dueling for space. The intense bass lines and the mixing of all the elements march along into a complete throwback to Ritchie Blackmore’s work by the fourth minute, bringing what is probably the zenith of compositional intensity on the entire album. The fusion with extreme metal elements turns this into something like I’ve never heard before and the black and white movie-like fabric remains as one of its tenderest moments. It would be hard to follow up such a magnanimous piece but the closing credits are in perfect hands as “Haire Pneuma Skoteino”, which is the transliteration from Greek of the band’s name, rocks you out through an enthralling rhythmic execution and catchy choruses that will demand you to move and sing along, thus closing the album on a high note.
I knew beforehand that these guys weren’t your regular musicians playing it safely, but to say that I was unprepared for this album has got to be an understatement. Everything about it screams novelty, as it mixes completely disparate elements into a mighty soup that you happily swerve like a starving madman. And what’s best about it is that the more you taste this formula the more you want to experience it further. I can’t repeat it enough; Pneuma is unorthodox and atypical, it is original beyond reproach, and it is without a doubt one of the most inalienable musical tests you’ll ever experience. You’ll want to latch on to it and call it “precious”. You’ll want to sleep with the CD behind your pillow and the light of day will soon become an expendable thing. Be careful with this album as Pneuma has the power to bind itself to you and become something more than your everyday album. It will become your recurrent centre of affection and lusty belonging, drawing you further away from light and deep into the shadows. You’ve been warned!
There are times, when reading about a band, that the more you read, the weirder it sounds, and then hearing the music only confirms this suspicion of insanity. This, by way of introduction, describes Hail Spirit Noir’s début Pneuma, a Greek ‘psychedelic prog black metal’ project featuring members of avant-garde act Transcending Bizarre?, blending 70s-style occult rock with a little black metal, and other surprises along the way.
Opener “Mountain Of Horror” gives an indication of what’s to come: starting off with violins over an occult bluesy rock basis not unlike The Devil’s Blood, and Theoharis’ blackened rasp on top, before a sudden transition into what can only be described as bass-high 8-bit black metal with glockenspiel and a synth line straight from Hawkwind, provided by Haris. The drumming (guest Ioannis Giahoudis) is also incredible to witness, even if the toms are reduced to a pitter-patter in the mix, and the bass (guest Dim Douvras, also mixing) certainly has moments of genius.
The band range from incredibly catchy tunes such as “Let Your Devil Come Inside Me”, to a Hawkwind-meets-indie rock-meets-Negură Bunget in “Against The Curse, We Dream”, which is oddly the heaviest song of the 6, and teaches us that the Greek language can sound kvlt. “When All Is Black” is the closest HSN come to a folky ballad, featuring pleasant cleans akin to Serj Tankian if he sang in Ghost, at least until the halfway point where the pseudo-black metal re-emerges, although it’s not unwelcome.
However, the band save most of their creative insanity for the 12-minute “Into The Gates Of Time”, a hypothetical meeting of new Opeth and Meads Of Asphodel, with a complete headtrip of a synth-driven psychedelic black metal section in the middle which cannot be described, only experienced. The chorus itself is very strong in both cleans and snarls, and the subtle synths certainly help it. The only personal complaint is the 3 1/2 minutes of cicada noises at the end, which I felt could have been shortened.
Suffering slightly from the sequencing, mid-paced black metal closer “Haire Pneuma Skoteino” (Greek for Hail Spirit Noir) is slightly less impressive than if it were switched with the previous track, and even the Jethro Tull-style flutes and traditional metal guitar solos aren’t quite as grabbing, although it’s certainly a catchy track in its own right. It ties the influences together, whilst also seeping in a slightly gothic sound in the synth, and serves as a summary of the madness that came before.
Hail Spirit Noir are proof for me that diversity in metal can bring about some of the most interesting blends of music, and they embrace this diversity with open arms. Despite the eclectic mix of sounds contained with Pneuma, there is one unchanging goal that is clearly in mind: boundaries in music are no barrier to creativity. Bluesy black metal has never sounded this good.
Originally written for www.deathmetalbaboon.com
Experimental efforts within black metal seems to be on the rise, not only with veteran bands such as Sigh releasing yet another brand new album this year, but also in the form of new bands attempting to push the boundaries of extreme metal. Greek band Hail Spirit Noir releases their debut full length album, Pneuma this year under Code666 Records, home to numerous other experimental bands as well.
All the weirdness begins as the album opens with Mountain of Horror, first being introduced to sounds of wilderness before a somewhat pleasant yet weird and (almost deliberately) awkward riffs come in, with the feel of a psychedelic record. And things get even more interesting as synths join in as well, and the entire atmosphere instantly reminds listeners of bands such as Sigh, though there is a considerably more doomish feel, at least for the first part of the track. But as the track progresses, there are some old-school progressive metal elements that are spotted as well, such as the sudden speed up of the tempo in the music, and the entire cacophony is somewhat reminiscent of Opeth's latest offering, Heritage, but with a more powerful edge to it. The resemblance to bands like Opeth is especially evident through the synths of Haris and also the way these are utilised throughout the album to create a somewhat haunting yet oddly calming atmosphere at the same time.
While the core lineup of Hail Spirit Noir comprises only two members (Theo and Haris), the session and guest musicians on the album are each extremely versatile. First, Theo displays his vocal ranges through not only the usage of savage growls, but also with the clean and emotion-laden singing on tracks like Let Your Devil Come Inside. The clean vocals on When All is Black in particular brings about a theatrical element, with the stellar and dramatic vocal performance on the track. His guitar playing also draws wide influences, and this can be heard through the unexpected bluesy solo on Against the Curse, We Dream. Aside from the core members, bassist Dim also litters the album with quirky bass licks, spicing things up on top of everything else that is going on around, and drummer Ioannis shifts between different styles with ease, and this is clearest on tracks where there is a sudden shift from an almost psychedelic rock style to a pure, full-on black metal blasting segment like on Let Your Devil Come Inside.
As one would already expect, this album is filled with weird-fuckery going on throughout and the band often throws curveballs towards the listeners with unexpected twists, with tracks like Against the Curse, We Dream being one of the more "normal" tracks with a more predictable pattern. Aside from the sudden and seemingly random shifts in tempo on certain tracks, the incorporation and fusion of elements from a wide range of genres could get those who are used to more traditional forms of extreme metal to get used to, though fans of bands like Sigh could get into Pneuma without much trouble. What is also captivating about the album is the emphasis on the atmosphere on the album, and the feelings that the band has incorporated and also managed to invoke through the songwriting.
As the album progresses, comparisons with releases such as Opeth's Heritage will inevitably come about with the band's style of progressive metal, but Pneuma manages to stand out with the amount of activity that is going on at any point in time, allowing Hail Spirit Noir to stand as a beast in its own rights. Sure, first listen was definitely difficult to sit through, but the album really grows on the listener, and the listener discovers more as well, giving new found satisfaction with each additional listen, especially on the epic Into the Gates of Time.
Few bands in the realm of black metal are as ambitious or daring as Hail Spirit Noir. The Greek band’s work throughout their debut, “Pneuma,” includes a bizarre anthology of odd black metal given a weird tint of obscure influences ranging from progressive rock to nonsensical avant-garde, but this is hardly their forefront gimmick. Instead, the group is able to produce a stellar collection of strangeness not limited to Hail Spirit Noir’s roots or their array of influences. The essence of “Pneuma” is primarily led by outstanding performances on the instrumental end which are accompanied by some of the boldest songwriting demonstrations the Greek black metal scene has ever witnessed. “Pneuma” ends up sounding like a nightmarish rollercoaster of dissected souls clawing against one another in some desperate attempt to escape whatever twisted damnation the stoners and sinners of this psychedelic hell call home.
Hail Spirit Noir is just weird. Right off the bat they heave an oddball rocker called "Mountain of Horror" which interestingly includes soft, feathery guitar work layered over shrieking vocals with piping keyboards coating the whole shebang and the occasional burst of ravenous black metal, as if the mixture of these items was a natural occurrence by some Bizarro standard. It sounds terrible on paper, I know, but there's a lot of creative energy here, and it's actually really amazing comparing the different tunes and how each is completely independent in some way or form. For instance, the sprawling epic “Into the Gates of Time” introduces a plethora of unique ideas such as esoteric clean vocals and a keyboard solo near the song's conclusion that would make Yes fans piss themselves, yet these specific characteristics are often untouched throughout the remainder of the album.
With the amount of individualism portrayed in each tune, it's no wonder Hail Spirit Noir's bag of tricks never stops surprising. At one point they'll be heaving sarcastically upbeat rock notes like "When All is Black" or imitating 70s rock icons Blue Öyster Cult as if they were thrown in a blackened filter during "Haire Pneuma Skoteino"; never a dull moment in the world of "Pneuma," that's for sure. "Against the Curse, We Dream" acts as the record's 'blackest' anthem, but again the traits of black metal are spliced into some dimension outside of our understanding through unpredictable rhythms and developments on the musical structure. Excellent riffs, excellent postulates, excellent clean vocals, excellent shrieks, and, generally speaking, excellent progressive black metal.
What first was an uncalculated, abnormal experience quickly became something mysteriously idiosyncratic and uniquely diabolical, a true triumph of Hail Spirit Noir’s disregard of musical law and acceptance of disobedient behavior. There seems to be something incredibly special about the band that most of their blood brothers seem to lack despite the initial unpredictability of their core, yet Hail Spirit Noir consequently produced an album so addictive and perplexing that I can only imagine just what substances these crazy Greeks were taking that influenced them to write such bold material. The journey is dark and fulfilling, a promising testament of unparalleled dominance crashing against the unconscious droning of evil souls producing evil music with the craziest of intentions. “Pneuma” is an essential voyage for the oddballs of black metal and similar addicts that desire such peculiar blasphemies.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com