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A lost gem - 87%

we hope you die, March 31st, 2020

It’s been a tough decade for black metal. False profits have lurked round every corner. Reasonable metrics of quality have been dismissed as the elitist ramblings of arbitrary cultural gatekeepers, or worse, just plain backward looking. This has allowed shallow novelty or avant-garde free-for-alls to define not only what counts as new and innovative, but to set the very terms of that debate. But scattered artists across the world have in one sense or another kept a flame burning in the night. Carving out a gradual and patient evolution of what has gone before. Some may claim that these have not aged all that way in the light of the revival of the underground scene in the latter years of the 2010s, but to dismiss them outright would be a blunder all the same.

Arizona is probably the least black metal place in the U.S, well, that and Hawaii maybe. But here is found the one man project A Transylvanian Funeral, a name seemingly designed to fudge over this talking point. And sole member Sleepwalker has been quietly churning out raw, lo-fi black metal albums in the bowels of the underground, before switching to the more recent project Temple of Abraxas. A Transylvanian Funeral’s second LP, 2010‘s ‘The Outsider’ is one of those albums that manages to hold together as a thematic whole, and yet touches on many traditions and styles within the genre as it progresses. This is certainly the best produced of this project’s output, with cavernous drums, a massive guitar sound perfectly poised between atmosphere whilst allowing for a degree of technical showmanship. The distant vocals range from a late 1980s old school thrash sound to more conventional high-end screeching.

We have to draw attention to the drums first and foremost for offering a tight, technical, and relentless barrage of precision and variation. This provides a solid and at times dominant basis for Sleepwalker to build his epic, soaring melodies as they collide with a straight up bludgeoning of blackened thrash. The album is over an hour in length, but the variety both in style and mood make for a surprisingly fluid listen. The album zips by with each transition feeling intuitive, following the internal logic of Sleepwalker’s approach to constructing melodies. New riffs are pleasingly anticipated by the last. Despite this variety there is a certain uniformity to the layering of this music. Tracks will often open with a simple melody, after a few repetitions a simple accompaniment is added, before varying the tension by means of a key change or shift in tempo, then bringing us back to the original melody. Despite the difference in style, this feels like watching a Summoning track play out in twice or three times the speed. And because this is applied to a number of different styles and approaches to black metal it offers the album a thematic unity over above mere aesthetics.

The bass is certainly present, although in the most intense passages it is more of a presence than a separate instrument that can be followed. However, there is more complexity to the basslines than one finds on a lot of black metal in a similar vein. Because of the soaring nature of the guitars, the tremolo picking means they dwell on notes for longer, and melodies take longer to unfold as a result. This is what gives black metal both its intensity and its subtlety. Usually, the guitars are high enough in the mix to be the dominant force on the record. Therefore, using the bass to pick out complimentary or sometimes more complex lines beneath can add another dimension to the music. Certain tracks on ‘The Outsider’ exemplify this, in a way similar to Gorgoroth’s ‘Antichrist’. This is an accomplished and multifaceted album, the layers of which were sadly lost on many tourists of the underground at the time.

Originally published at Hate Meditations