Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2023
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Privacy Policy

Monte Penumbra > As Blades in the Firmament > Reviews
Monte Penumbra - As Blades in the Firmament

Occult hellish experience - 95%

Adhlactha, May 4th, 2021

The Portugal experimental blacksters Monte Penumbra have returned this March with a new creation “As Blades in the Firmament”, more and more descending into deep murky waters of avant-garde obscurity. And this time they've joined the forces with Icelandic independent label Oration Records and French End of All Life Productions focused on sophisticated and original black metal scene.

“As Blades in the Firmament” is their only second full-length release, apart from a couple of splits and one EP five years ago. This kind of music demands huge energetic reserves, it is soaked in desperation and deathly experience of ritualistic horror and chaotic dissonance, and yet it sounds coherent and musically integral. This record is close to a concept of depressive black metal with doom metal mournful slowness, but at the same time its atmospheric nature numbs the depressive mood, flooding with piercing coldness, more common to Scandinavian classical black metal scene. And the big influence of French black metal’s aristocracy is so audible from their non-standard musical structures and avant-garde perception. It's absolutely non-describable; this music is full of esoteric layers and gloomy distant echoes, totally dipping the listener into this anti-cosmic journey, free from boundaries and external stimuli. But Monte Penumbra are familiar with the avant-garde black metal scene, but still, they've managed to create their unique style, maybe a bit noisy and chaotic, but nevertheless, unusual and self-centered. They lack calculating evilness of Mayhem or precise gloss of Code; they focus more on the inner feelings through the occult background and disharmonious moves.

The strangest and the most dissonant feelings create the chaotic drums of Icelandic guest drummer Bjarni Einarsson, his style of drumming is really otherworldly and is so perfect for this complicated music, overloaded with noises and effects. Esoteric approach is also responsible for this moody and unorthodox image, the creepy whispers, chants and over-emotional screams fill every song with a religious awe (especially the tracks “Black Mould on Rye Grass” or “Trephining the Severed Head of the Oracle”). The mastermind of this project W.uR did his best in all his talents – the high-pitched guitar riffs pierce through with the power of the storm, the loud and unnaturally low bass lines increase the occult drama, and the diversity of his singing experiments from monotonousness to aggressive shrieks tears off all the veils, displaying the nakedness of the soul. And psychedelic sounds and ambient passages only strengthen the feeling of frustration and abandonment (“To Anoint the Dead” or “Trephining the Severed Head of the Oracle”), creating a cathartic catastrophe in the minds of the listeners. Yes, this music is full of contradictions, so no wonder, that it is so painfully meditative.

The occult bands among black metal scene are not a rare sight nowadays, but not many bands can transform this ritualistic mood into the wall of darkness and chaotic vortex. “As Blades in the Firmament” is a perfect soundtrack to a solitary journey into the darkest depths of one’s inner self.

Originally written for

The great Hermetic work - 90%

Colonel Para Bellum, March 27th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

Monte Penumbra with their newest album "As Blades in the Firmament" may be eligible for the award for the most stark change in sound and production. Well, at least in the black metal underground. Their previous album, "Heirloom of Sullen Fall", was released almost 8 years ago, and at that time everyone was vying to compare this work with Ved Buens Ende – yes, indeed, there was a lot in common with "Written in Waters" (1995). However, the overly sophisticated and forcedly farfetched "Heirloom of Sullen Fall" is just amusement for listeners compared to the wild and aggressive "As Blades in the Firmament". Yes, exactly. Monte Penumbra have become thicker in production and structure, more powerful and heavier in sound. And truer in black metal: after 8 years straightforward rock and psychedelic borrowings disappeared (on the whole, "Heirloom of Sullen Fall" could be defined as a black metal work only thanks to the harsh vocals). Perhaps now their avant-garde black metal is really "not for everyone". W.uR strained every sinew and tried his best to create "As Blades in the Firmament", but it would be very interesting to know what happened in his head.

One of the main differences between the new material and the old one is a sharp distortion sound, ah, the guitar crackles and bites while playing on almost all way. At the first try, the dominating distortion makes it difficult to even make out the riffage, you begin to doubt this wall of sound, full of mysteries... But do not rush to conclusions, let's make sense of it all, step by step.

The very first song, "Black Mold on Rye Grass", dazzles with the atmosphere that lasts until the very end of the album. A troubling and jittery tremolo picking riff alternates with an atonal one – and this is almost a rule for "As Blades in the Firmament". And, by the way, if at some point you no longer hear atonality in these riffs, this is not to say that it does not exist at all, – you just get used to this atonality and no longer pay attention to it. This is the originality / abnormality we have. Add to this the frequent speed variation and ragged structure using – as a result, we are almost constantly dealing with sound abstraction and avant-gardism in Monte Penumbra's black metal. The doom metal component, if we talk about this genre in application to updated Monte Penumbra, sometimes manifests itself almost in its pure form (a bright example: in the last song, "Trephining the Severed Head of the Oracle", at 2:19 a seemingly groovy, but at the same time abstract riff with dissonance enters), but now it is mostly felt in an atmosphere, a fated atmosphere.

Riffs are aggressive, they pierce to the marrow of your bones, and, yes, too often they are perceived solely on an emotional level. Bursts of riffs are like moans (for example, "As Blades in the Firmament" at 5:37), like disturbing pulsations (the beginning of "Foreboding in Tidal Breaths"), like tentacles from another dimension ("Foreboding in Tidal Breaths" at 4:14). Even a seemingly ordinary solo sounds on "As Blades in the Firmament" like it is from another dimension (check "As Blades in the Firmament" at 4:10), or takes on some eerie form that cannot be deciphered ("Trephining the Severed Head of the Oracle" at 4:29).

Sometimes it even seems that except for the vocals there is nothing human left on this recording, that there is no music here in the usual sense. But in fact, you can compartmentalize everything – the riffs are clearly structured on "As Blades in the Firmament". Scan them carefully – you will find even a lot of old school black metal elements in them. The most striking example is the opening riff in "As Blades in the Firmament": a piercing tremolo picking riff is like a whirlwind, like a jackhammer biting into granite. If not for the dissonance, it would be old school black metal riffing. We repeat: "As Blades in the Firmament" is black metal, and this is the second main difference between the new work and the previous one.

In no small part, the atmosphere of the album also depends on the drumming. Tom drum fills and even tom drum accents stand out very much in the whole sound of the album – as if you are being knocked right on the head. While the snare is almost restrained in the mix. Such a soundscape occurs throughout the album, and this leads to a rather strange feeling while listening as well as has an impact on an otherworldly aura of the work. Ah, these constant intense breaks and rolls – like a furious surf of the sea... And sometimes the drum beats seem to produce an electric shock, well, which should induce a lab rat to certain actions. While the beginning of "Of a Different Fire" paints in the imagination another strange picture: toms tear the shell of the cocoon to the accompaniment of a disquieting plucking riff.

Yes, the drummer's playing is admirable here (unlike its forerunners, this album features Bjarni Einarsson on drums, in place of Mons Vcnt), even his blast beat passages are affected by (pseudo)irrationality, while with his doublebass-attacks he generates a guiding thread through Arkham's labyrinth. Regarding the rhythm section, it should also be noted that, as a rule, the plangent bass obediently takes upon itself a secondary role, but sometimes it is raised in the mix, and then the listener falls under the spell of some abstract melody, as, for example, in "Black Mold on Rye Grass" at 4:38, or gloomy and dreary tune, as in "To Anoint the Dead" at 1:21 (by the way, it is some kind of hysterical and nervous song, at least such a feeling develops), or touching melody, as in "Foreboding in Tidal Breaths" at 3:31.

Thanks to all these aural effects, Monte Penumbra's music turns out to be very Hermetic, ah, it doesn't seem to allow itself to be touched. Well, it can still be called psychedelic, but now this "psychedelia" is not generated by elements of psychedelic rock at all, as on "Heirloom of Sullen Fall". The influence of VBE has been preserved on "As Blades in the Firmament", but now it can be found in its pure form mainly only at the turning points, for example, as in "Black Mold on Rye Grass", where the song stops abruptly at 2:47, and the guitar plucking and drumming enter one after another, or in "Foreboding in Tidal Breaths", – here an overdriven guitar strumming (2:18 and 4:49) creates the feeling of celestial mud until it turns into abstract turbulence, or in "Of a Different Fire", where at 1:54 some guitar pattern sounds like a fragment of a forgotten dream... Basically, if VBE is heard, then it's some kind of embittered / malicious VBE.

Summary. It's hard to understand from the first try what exactly Monte Penumbra want to say. As if they are looking at the world from another dimension (ah, this another dimension!), and their world / dimension is saturated with anxiety and some kind of unhealthy expectation. The last song, "Trephining the Severed Head of the Oracle", begins with a tremolo picking riff, and dissonances struck through it like solar prominences. A very solemn riff: either a triumphant return, or, on the contrary, departure. An indicative episode, an indicative song, solemn and at the same time doomed, – a song that closes the album with dignity and at the same time convincingly characterizes it. Maybe "As Blades in the Firmament" will turn your world upside down.

The Metal Observer