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A stroke of celestial genius - 84%

Memnarch, April 1st, 2012

Anyone even remotely into black metal will have come across Nargaroth at some point on their travels. Kanwulf’s stories and antics in the past are so infamous these days it’s easy to see why they’re a hugely polarizing band. For a guy whose head is lodged permanently up his own arse, surprisingly he still has a canny knack for creating some fantastic music. “Jahrezeiten” was a somewhat return to form after the rather mundane previous two efforts. But let’s face it, he’ll never make another “Herbstleyd”, that was an almost genre defining release, and Kanwulf has said as much himself.

While “Spectral Visions of a Mental Warfare” is an exceptionally good release, their best in many years in fact, it’s sure to divide fans right across the spectrum. Why? Because this is very, very different to anything Nargaroth have done before. Basically anyone that’s looking for a straight up black metal album will be coming away very disappointed, for “Spectral...” is essentially a bizarre experiment comprised of one small part classic Nargaroth consumed by a wave dreamy ambience fuelled by what almost appears to be the electronic waves of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis of all people. Not your everyday black metal album then eh? Of course this will just further stoke the fires of Kanwulf’s critics, but if you take this not as a black metal album, but as an ambient piece in general, you’ll maybe begin to fully appreciate its majesty.

The three ‘Metal’ tracks present here would be loosely tied into the ‘depressive-suicidal’ vein of black metal for want of a comparison but the guitar plays a distinctly reserved role anyway. Take ‘An Indifferent Cold in the Womb of Eve’, it appears to drift around dejectedly beneath the sea of synths and electronics, playing an effective role in creating an atmosphere of suspended desolation. Whether it’s the sub-oceanic minimal electronic journey of ‘Diving Among the Daughters of the Sea’ or the terrifying “A Whisper Underneath the Bark of Old trees” it’s hard to escape that feeling that we are but a an insignificant fleck of corrupt light in something altogether vast and complex beyond our own comprehension.

These astral, ambient passages are just so fucking effective, and none more remarkable than in the duo of ‘Journey Through My Cosmic Cells – The Negation of God’ and the aforementioned ‘A Whisper...’, the former a pure electronic track that is so utterly chilled out, relaxing and arcane; a trip into an abyssal celestial void, drugged by repeating electronic pulses of the synthesizer. It could easily have walked right out of the eighties, probably just why I love it so much. ‘A Whisper...’ is arguably one of the greatest tracks Kanwulf has ever penned, and it’s a pity the rest of the album isn’t quite up to this standard, as some of it does have the tendency to drag a touch. It’s the most ‘black metal’ track on the album and it sounds suspiciously like he might just have been listening to Nychts and Mortualia's latest collaboration before writing this one. The marriage between the melancholic guitar work, Kanwulf’s sparse vocals and the empyreal soundscapes created is mesmerizing. Take the guitar line that comes in around 4:40, it’s just soul destroying. I cannot stress enough how beautiful and crushing this track is, transporting the listener to another consciousness where all dreams and aspirations are destroyed.

Comparing it to the other notable ‘spacey’ black metal acts, it’s less suffocating and foreboding than Darkspace and not as harrowing as Nychts, it’s comparable to a star cloaked out of body trip through the endless forest of space, an attritional battle between sanity and insanity. Aesthetically it isn't black metal at all, the focal point isn’t centred on riffing and blasting drum work, it’s all about the atmosphere. It may be their least metal release yet, but it’s Kanwulf’s best composition in years. Nargaroth have never given two shits about what path they’re expected to take, we’re never going to get another “Herbstleyd”, but if he decides to stick to this route I’m more than happy.