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Many art theorists and critics see the romantic era as just another era in the history of aesthetics, but I beg to differ. The philosophical idea, on which the fundamental principles of romantic art are based, is the idea that imagination is higher than reason. This idea might sound simple and irrational, but it is much more complex than we can ever imagine and as far as irrationality goes – in the darkest corners of the irrational, you will find the rational. From the first moment that I listened to this album, I could immediately sense the strong romantic aura and see the dark wanderer of a desolated human soul wandering in a dark forest.
The general atmosphere of this album is brilliant. The best word to describe this atmosphere would be “grim”. It is certainly grim – it is a journey that takes you into the obscure spheres of introspective moments, stream of consciousness and existential trauma. Keyboards and synthetic effects are constantly used with the most amazing results. The beautiful way in which the guitar riffs are integrated with these atmospheric synthesizing, is really the work of a true master. The vocals are very interesting – it sounds quite the same on every track, but it is certainly not dull. Every few moments I experienced the synergetic functioning of all the instruments.
The drums are also unique, since it creates a very atmospheric and ceremonial sound and it maintains this sound without becoming dull. Furthermore, the synthesizing creates rich melodies that might sound slightly familiar to other ambient and atmospheric black metal melodies, but still has a unique character that implements a sound of the utmost complexity.
One of the most impressive moments of this album, is the lunatic moments on “No quarter at the Somme”. The atmospheric keyboards and drums on this track is really something that sweeps me off my feet. I call it “lunatic moments”, since it reminds me of a kind of lunatic atmosphere in which the highest forms of irrational thoughts manifest as acts in which the individual pours the rawest, darkest and most barbaric side of his animus. In a psychological way, the animus and anima then blends together in a whirlwind kind of way and pours the individual into a bottomless pit of the unconscious mind.
Although frontman S. Holliman writes lyrics for the songs, it mostly sounds as if he is not uttering any words. Instead, he mostly screams and growls his way through madness and trauma. That is very impressive, since he is not scared to honestly express himself through any means possible. Here is a man who, like Nattramn from Silencer, is very strongly connected to the aesthetic side of his dark side.
Overall, this album contains an amazing atmosphere of aesthetic brilliance and I don’t think that this album is just suitable for fans of depressive black metal, but also to some fans of dark wave music.
I was in two minds about giving this a review. The first time a listened to ‘Poison’ my mind was simply blown. Not only has everything truly come together for I Shalt Become after repeated so-so and samey releases, but Holliman has also created a truly unique and new musical space for black metal and metal in general to move into. My reluctance in providing a review stems from the fact that if one likes an album so much they tend to get carried away, over sell it and disappoint anyone that took the over-hyped recommendation. Not only that, but they also come across as a little incoherent in the process.
Not since I first heard Burzum or Summoning have I felt like this about an album however, and those two acts have enough people singing their praises all ready; ‘Poison’ on the other hand, is one of the most criminally overlooked albums in metal’s history. I loved the style and atmosphere created on ‘Wanderings’ and ‘In the Falling Snow’, but I think I’m not alone in saying that that sound was at times two dimensional, showing a lot of potential but never quite realising it. The same can be said for the later recordings, with many commenting on how little has changed after a ten year break. Hindsight can be a wonderful thing however, and after listening to ‘Poison’ it is clear that Holliman was just getting his form back before moving the sound on. And what a sound it is.
It seems that he has finally mastered the concepts of melodic progression, tension and build, dynamics and the seamless blend of rich string sounds with a diminished but ever present guitar. The production is so much warmer on here. Tempo wise, it remains at the same speed, but the drums have improved greatly with more interesting fills and a fatter sound. However, they serve only to compliment the sweeping strings and builds without taking anything away. The songs all flow into one another with no pauses of silence; this means that it is one of those releases that just has to be taken as a whole piece of work, and to pick out individual tracks would be hard; every single one is a highlight. The vocals are immensely quiet to the point where I would have suggested taking them away all together, the music being so engaging as to not warrant them. However, reading over some of the lyrics this would be a loss. The short five or six line poems offered here are truly bizarre and unique.
The multifarious string and synth sounds rule the show on this one. The guitars back them up now and then but only provide additional texture and serve to add a degree of harshness. In their absence I would be reluctant to call this a metal album at all, more ambient neo-classical. The other thing to note is how positive it is at times. We are taken through passages of uncertainty and tension that are reminiscent of previous works, but remain infinitely more mature and complex in terms of melody, production and execution, but they often build to triumphant crescendos that carry on unfolding before us and just fail to get boring despite the tempo remaining slow. The whole thing is a journey much like one Summoning would take you on. However, here we are not limited to the world of Tolkien, incredible as that is. I would say further that I Shalt Become has mastered the art of dynamics which is so rare in extreme metal in general and really illustrates what a little imagination and outside the box thinking can do. In short, not only has production, musical talent, writing, techniques and the overall execution been improved dramatically, but the musical substance is there to back it up.
I had almost lost faith in black metal by the early part of this decade. Burzum’s newer material failed to impress me greatly, Summoning have not released anything for a good few years now and other ambient black metal projects are only occasionally interesting, but one has to trawl through much dullness to get a reward. ‘Poison’ has proved many of Holliman’s contemporaries to be light-years behind him in terms of...well, everything. This really puts many critically acclaimed modern black metal acts to shame.
To conclude then, this is a great triumph for I Shalt Become and metal as a whole. I would go further and say that this is a triumph for music as a whole that dares to explore, I would not hesitate to recommend this to any music fan as its appeal transcends the genres it was spawned from. I only remain apprehensive for the future of this outfit because such a grandiose work will be desperately hard to follow. As much as a fan of I Shalt Become as I was before the release of ‘Poison’ I will now be watching its future even more closely. I had better stop writing now to avoid over selling. My intention is simply to bring more attention to this most overlooked of releases and recommend it universally.
The relationship between classical orchestration and black or other extreme metal music has been a long one, beginning quite early on through the typical incorporation of a keyboard player in a great many big name acts (Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, and so forth). The levels to which bands are able to successfully merge the forms vary from artist to artist. To some, simply having someone strike a few synthesized string sections is quite enough. Others, like the great Austrian band Summoning, go a lot further, using whatever cheap keyboards or samplers they can muster to create epic backdrops that go FAR beyond where anyone could have imagined, the guitars and black rasps used to serve only this sense of grandiose.
I Shalt Become is one of our least celebrated, but best USBM artists to also combine these genres into something magnificent, along with the late Windham Hell, and what's more fascinating is that it's the work of but a single man, S. Holliman (give him a little credit here, because Summoning takes two). But for the longest time, it seemed this project would begin and end with a single album, the debut Wanderings from 1998. Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case, and beginning in 2008, Holliman began to churn out new material at a fairly fast rate, producing decent if not staggering efforts like The Pendle Witch Trials last year. All of this has culminated in his fifth effort, Poison, which it turns out is a mesmerizing, wondrous affair that will be very hard to top, and one of the more bewitching, immersive experiences I've had in several months.
The process is neither novel nor mind boggling. It's what Holliman can DO with it that makes this record so effectively haunting and morbid. Slowly crawling walls of orchestration are created through synthesizers, and over this he layers plucky, often strange, distorted guitars that hover below the bombastic string sections, ethereal female tones that hover at the edge of perception, and a mix of diabolic rasps and male choirs. Together these elements crash like the waves of warring shores throughout history and space, across various epochs and realms of possibility. It's an alien, complex emotional onslaught that is anchored only by the mighty weight of the symphonic ballast. 55 minutes of riveting obscurity that should silence skeptics of such extreme and unorthodox brilliance.
Despite the difficulties in absorbing such a vacuous richness of idea, there are several tracks on Poison which are astutely accessible. "Ghosts" is a calming, escalating piece that simmers in a slightly droning guitar and a mix of 'spoken' voices and snarls, it's uplifting arches enough to woo just about anyone who can appreciate a solemn theatrical score. "Leaving Watership Down" is a bleak piece very much reminiscent of Summoning, with swelling strings and an ever escalating momentum streaked through by the grisly undercurrent of its lyrics and vocals. "Absolve Me", while a little more downcast and disturbing, channels a little Wagner or Mussorgsky, and the intro "Like a Lamb to the Slaughter..." is fairly straightforward.
But the more heightened the tension being explored by Holliman, the more incredible the work becomes. "No Quarter at the Somme" uses stark, lumbering doom metal fixtures against a bustling orchestral backdrop, with some psychedelic wah wah deep in the underbelly that creates a unique and paralytic venom from which you cannot be cured. "Black Swan Events" is like the unraveling of a kingdom, or a planet, or perhaps the very universe itself, with gracious overtures that make the listener feel as if he/she is floating through a vacuum, toward some black hole, the unknown, while the signals of all of man's accomplishments flash past in the void, represented here by sloppy little guitars. "The Finest Cut of the Scalpel" counterbalances a fairly happy melodic key section with some droning guitars and evil, depressive throat noise, and "Harlow's Vertical Chamber Apparatus" slowly gathers warmth as if through enlightenment.
What makes Poison even more interesting are the excellent lyrics of a highly poetic nature, which make for wonderful reading, even if you won't often be able to pick them out of the albums terse, audio fabric. Here's an example in "Ghosts":
'Still you, ghost, are bothered by instinct
And whispers and falling icons
The failed attempts at a distant second
A beating that took its toll...
A pound of flesh consumed.'
Minimal and meaningful, but for fuck's sake, if only 50% of bands could put this much effort into their actual lyrical matter metal music as a whole (in all its encompassed genres) would be considered a far more potent distraction by all the heaps of ignorami who curse its existence. The expressive nature of the lyrics creates food for thought that survives well beyond the confines of the actual audio experience, and I Shalt Become is thus a master of abstraction in all walks.
Holliman might not offer a structured alternative to Summoning, after all, he explores more ground than a single fantasy setting, but I really feel like fans of that Austrian band's sound itself would do well to explore what this Illinois artist brings to the market. Also recommended if you enjoy the latest works of the Polish act Hellveto, who has recently pursued a similar mesh of martial, orchestral bombast and savage, uncut black metal aesthetics.