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Black Reaper > Celestial Descension > Reviews > gasmask_colostomy
Black Reaper - Celestial Descension

Expanding into the light - 84%

gasmask_colostomy, June 12th, 2018

Jiaren Liu joined up with previous bandmaster Yibo He for the second release of Black Reaper, which saw the light of day earlier this year. Perhaps it’s a poor choice of phrase to say that it saw the light, since I’m sure that many people listen to black metal with the curtains shut, though given that the lyrics focus on Luciferianism any allusions to light might be apt in some ways too. In any case, this album sees a moderate amount of melody added to the previous Dissection formula that was produced to high standards on the debut EP. In some cases, the light and shade is more accessible and less like a white-knuckle trip through the night than before, edging the style closer to the melancholic style of melodic black than the bracing rifforama previously attempted.

However, the quality of the playing and songwriting is enough to justify the minor concessions to accessibility. The guitars are still the main draw in the sound, though there are few moments of isolated lead work except during ‘Reapers from the Past’ and a pretty special cover song. The riffs tend to be epic in scope and transcendent in feeling, usually rising high up into the darkness of the sky as thunderous blasts rain down around, bringing to mind not only Dissection and Watain, but also Norwegian proponents like Immortal and Emperor, though without the keyboard use of the latter. The large chunk of black metal in the middle of album is nevertheless bookended by compositions that Ihsahn might not look askance at, those being a cello and violin intro piece and a surprisingly long outro of the same ilk. Given the band’s choice to opt for the same ploy on Flames of Sitra Ahra, comparisons are inevitable and come out in the favour of the earlier release, which at once produced a more interesting and emotional instrumental, as well as not succumbing to excessive length. That ‘Moon Circle’ is a hidden track containing light piano with natural sound effects suggests that Black Reaper might soon have a splinter project of classical or ambient music in addition to the black metal output.

The seven tracks of full-strength metal still allow for 39 minutes of “proper” music, so no grievances can be held for the frame of Celestial Descension. The feeling of these songs tends towards the mystic, especially when elements of clean playing seep through the distorted guitars during ‘Acosmic Illumination’, which contrasts with the tangle and rush of the general assault, grandiose key changes underpinning the movements of the music. There is not much to choose between the songs, though ‘Entrance of Acausal Chaosophy’ stands out as a point of contrast with the EP, being a song redone in similar style, with small tweaks made to the introduction and a slightly more forceful percussive presence driving the pace of the fast sections. The longest song here, ‘Under the Light of Hubur’, expands to accommodate more in the way of atmosphere, which is also the precinct of ‘Unlimited Self’; this, the album’s third instrumental track, winds slow melodic leads and occasional violin behind a slow-paced beat, as if glorying in the newfound freedom that the title suggests. Of course I’d be a fool not to mention the Dismember cover, which is the closing track from Massive Killing Capacity. As a death metal standard, the style is not quite a fit for Black Reaper, though the awestruck opening and organ outro, as well as some juicy melodeath lead work, create a fascinating frame for the heads-down riff worship that fills the main part of the song.

Aside from the overburdening of this release with inessential instrumental girth, the only complaint that might be made about Celestial Descension is that the songs are not quite so sharply defined as one might like from an often catchy and ruthless genre, though the feelings of greatness and transcendence that are built up by the lyrics are well carried-off by the slow and expansive melodic playing. I slightly prefer the preceding release, but if you want to catch the best that Chinese melodic black metal has to offer, this is an album that won’t be far from your year-end lists either.

-- May Diamhea's feat of 100 reviews in 7 days remain unbeaten --