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Unfocused but promising - 70%

we hope you die, November 9th, 2020

More often that not, first timers prepare the ground with a peppering of demos and EPs before ensconcing themselves in the studio to land the debut. But now and then, an artist will come out of nowhere, a fully cognisant life form, and drop a self-aware full length onto an unsuspecting world without so much as a by-your-leave. Ok, so the members of Svabhavat already have their fingers in a few pies. Chiefly James Sloan, who seems to have been on a bit of a releasing spree this year with projects Aleynmord, Anachitis, and Grave Light all suddenly throwing out material.

Along with Svabhavat, and their debut release ‘Black Mirror Reflection’. Much like their fellow Portlanders Tchnornobog, this album attains a level of maturity and self-assurance more fitting of an artist with a few releases already under their belt. But there the similarity ends. Svabhavat take a much more down the middle approach to black metal, one that is actually in line with a lot of American material we have been treated to over the years. It borrows the general techniques and aspirations of Norwegian black metal and attempts to shoehorn something distinct and characterful on this basic framework, in the hope that it takes us far enough away from tired convention, and into new talking points.

The attempt is more valiant than many that try this slight of hand. But the outcome is a little unfocused. This is a survey of various styles more than it is a beast on its own quest. There are many classic Darkthrone riffs frontloading the album. Played with a guitar tone more fitting of the American tendency to fill out the bass, and add some overtly evil sounding chord progressions. This gives the music that closed in, suffocating vibe that goes so well with this brand of darkness. The vocals by contrast are distant, laced in reverb, implying open spaces, giving the music size and room to breathe.

But these sonic tributes to the great outdoors are somewhat overdone when the lead guitars kick in. What could have been neat licks to signal transition points and build the atmosphere of certain passages becomes a near constant siren call of extended notes and string bending that pretty much accompanies us throughout the entirety of ‘Black Mirror Reflection’. Taken on its own I don’t hate it. The black metal foundation it’s set to is better than average, and adding these simple harmonic inflections adds a rich layer of texture above. But these give way to some hints (mere hints) at post black metal stylings, and of course they could not resist adding some weighty dissonance to the underlying tremolo picking to further contrast this.

Now, all these elements are used sparingly, tastefully, and ultimately complement rather than hinder the overall sound picture Svabhavat are painting. But it becomes frustrating when the riffs actually coalesce into a compelling narrative. As the chord progressions move from dark and depressive to exhilarating and life affirming. Because just as these more intriguing elements gain momentum they are railroaded by yet another on-trend technique, another superfluous piece of instrumentation, or another nod to stylish modern interpretations of the form. As a result, Svabhavat give the impression that their heart is in the wrong place. The album is a white knuckle ride not because the music is so compelling, but because one is never quite sure what the intention is. The experience is honestly as ambiguous as this review. Make of that what you will.

Originally published at Hate Meditations