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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!