Although it doesn’t always show in the music, you’re likely to see quite a few members of black and death metal bands express their appreciation for genres like post punk and progressive rock in interviews. However, in recent years some artists have started to branch out from their extreme roots and bring in these additional influences in ways that have pushed their boundaries outwards. We’ve heard it in death metal through bands like Tribulation and Morbus Chron, and it’s extended to black metal in recent years as well. Spain’s Balmog is one of the latest to fuse elements of post punk and other rock influences into a black metal foundation, though the resulting effort Eve still retains the fire and grit one would expect from the genre.
Balmog’s trajectory has been interesting to follow, as they arguably perfected the more traditional black metal approach on Svmma Fide and Vacvvm with songwriting that presented plenty of swirling twists and turns while still feeling very rooted in the genre’s roots. Last year’s Pillars of Salt saw them attempting to shake up the formula with a single eighteen-and-a-half-minute track that explored some soft yet dark textures and atmosphere alongside the expected chaotic and violent riffing. Eve pushes these elements further to the front without losing the essence of what made earlier Balmog albums so compelling. Where groups like Tribulation completely reinvented themselves as they incorporated other genres into their music, the integration of post punk, progressive rock, and even heavy metal are a bit more subtle here. The tonality remains rooted in utter darkness, but the songwriting provides more twists and turns than before. “Birth of Feral”, the first real taste after intro “Horror of Circuitru”, provides a pretty good indication of how well-balanced these different sides of the sounds are. The rhythms coming from the drums and the bass lines recall brooding post punk with jagged, bottom heavy grooves yet the guitars dance over top of it with that familiar abrasive and scorching black metal tone. It’s surprising how natural the integration of these psychedelic melodies or colder post punk bass line work within this context, and it makes for a dynamic listen that is able to keep you captivated whether the band is pummeling you or letting softer keyboard arrangements provide a brief respite. “Agnus Dei” is also mentioning as it provides a keyboard driven soundscape that brings horror movie soundtracks and dark ambient to mind, and it helps the material transition into its second half where the atmosphere gets even thicker.
The band’s vocalist Balc has always utilized a more rhythmic approach to screaming and growling that felt more versatile than the norm for black metal, and this suits the rock elements on Eve. His raspier screams naturally ebb and flow alongside the twisting and turning instrumentation, and when he utilizes cleaner pitches like on “Senreira” his tone reminds me of The Sisters of Mercy run through a black metal filter. No matter how quiet the vocals get they remain tense and foreboding, and this is best showcased on”Desacougo” where creepy whispers give way to harsh screams from one minute to the next. Balc’s approach and sheer power has been one of the defining elements of Balmog’s music for me, and he continues to evolve his performance alongside the rest of the band.
Eve marks Balmog’s first full-length as a four piece, as Javi Bastard is now a full member after providing guest keyboards and working behind the boards on previous efforts. With this new lineup the group has pushed outwards and produced a potent mixture of black metal, post punk, and darker rock that provides some memorable hooks without losing the violent and aggressive foundation. Admittedly it’s a bit of a grower and parts of the second half do drag slightly, so I don’t think they’ve topped Vacvvm for me just yet, but this is still an incredible effort that stands tall above the black metal bands continuing to churn out the same tired sound year after year. With this new foundation laid, I expect this new incarnation to continue to experiment and explore darkness and chaos in unexpected ways. Eve is available from War Anthem Records and BlackSeed Productions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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