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Rituals In The Twilight's Darkness - 85%

Larry6990, May 18th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

US black metal has always been a shady area for me. Other than a few highlights, like Colorado’s Cobalt, I’ve had no luck with anything particularly memorable. Well, it’s a good job I mentioned Cobalt, because, at times, the strangely-named Highland (maybe they have Scottish ancestry) strongly resemble Erik Wunder’s brainchild at points. But most importantly, the grim trio from California definitely command their own sound; that of ferocious and addictive black metal which is 100% devoted to the style. Loyal To The Nightsky is the band’s first full-length output following a self-titled EP in 2013, and is of superb quality, despite being released independently.

The Americans waste no time with ambient intros/build-ups, but choose to launch straight into the blazing title track – drums a-blasting, riffs a-blazing and throats a-shredding. The production quality is noticeably superb: everything is clear (even the bass at times!) and the guitars, whilst retaining some characteristic fuzz, are riffing with clarity. Contrary to most of my favourite black metal acts, Gevork Matevosyan’s vocals are practically shrieking in your ear. It’s a pleasure to hear such well-executed screams right up front in the mix. Kudos also to drummer Michael Semerdjian (from these guys’ surnames, I’ve got a feeling they may be Armenian) for blasting away tirelessly without ever sounding mechanical or soulless. The entirety of the LP is a wonderfully wholesome sound that would be a pleasure to have on in the background of any party in the woods.

This trio are at their best when the vicious riffs take the helm. This is made effective by building the grim atmosphere with plenty of typical dissonance on the ol’ tremolo guitars, then slamming down into a focused and direct riff that forces you to snap your neck. This first hits 2 minutes into the sophomore track “Towards The Absolute”; that kind of mid-tempo riff is pure Burzum-worship, and all the better for it. Thank Varg for third track “Burning In Forgotten Times” – a crawling, doomy affair that is drowning in riffs like these. It also displays Highland’s penchant for variety in a genre easily stagnated. Loyal To The Nightsky can bring the tempo down without losing one inch of intensity.

Such a wonderfully structured album does not come off as memorable straight away, but rather holds your attention for the entire endeavour until you want to listen to it fully all over again. Both “Immortal Queen” and finale “Rituals In The Twilight’s Darkness” (could there be a more black metal song name?) carry this off superbly; both are deeply rich and varied compositions which beg to be repeated due to their many layers. In stark contrast, tracks like “Wallachian Night Terror” offer a short, sharp blast of fury in no more than 2 minutes – ensuring things never fester. If you’re looking for the next game-changer in black metal, then look somewhere else – but with Loyal To The Nightsky, Highland have gifted us with a whole hour of vicious, but elegantly performed, black metal that should meet the needs of all genre die-hards.