Schammasch may have started off channeling elements of traditional black metal early on in their career, but over the years the Swiss project has branched out considerably and upped their ambitions towards paths far beyond the genre’s roots. 2016’s Triangle demonstrated just how far outwards the band was attempting to go as the triple album encompassed thick atmosphere, pummeling riffs, and an entire disc that focused on darker ambiance. It’s no easy feat to follow up that lengthy and grandiose of an album, but this year’s Hearts of No Light continues Schammasch’s journey towards different stylistic elements while further reigning in the writing. While still just over an hour overall, Hearts of No Light comes through as intensely focused and comes through as a cohesive and engaging listen that has plenty of individual hooks to keep listeners returning for more.
Although they’ve already covered a fair amount of ground across their previous full-lengths and 2017’s The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite EP, Schammasch has never been a group content with repeating themselves and they’ve continued to push outwards. What stands out initially about Hearts of No Light is the emphasis it places on layered melodies that build and rebuild over the course of many of the songs. There’s a methodical feel to how all of the pieces fall into place, both within the context of an individual track and the album as a whole. At times the instrumentals up the level of aggression and channel some pummeling black/death metal that recalls some of Bolzer’s more recent material, while other spread outwards towards the same kind of melancholy and somber beauty that doom often conveys. It’s impossible to pin Schammasch down into one particular variant of extreme metal and the further you get into Hearts of No Light the more nuances it has to offer, with no element coming across as out of place. While it’s clear that the album was written in a way that allows it to flow together seamlessly as a complete body of work, the epic riffing on songs like “Qadmon’s Heir” and even the surprisingly catchy rock hooks on “A Paradigm of Beauty” provide individual hooks that stand out and encourage the listener to spend as much time with specific songs as the entire release. The ambient passages once again make up a significant amount of the run-time but they feel more focused and engaging compared to some of Triangle’s third disc.
C.S.R. has served as Schammasch’s vocalist since the very beginning, and his approach has branched out over the years just as much as the instrumentation. He often starts off with a fairly raspy scream and then heads up and down the spectrum, reaching some much lower growls that add some murkiness to the overall sound. The harsher vocals are enunciated in a way that make the lyrics easier to decipher compared to your average black/death metal band, and there’s also an emphasis on whispered chants and cleaner ranges that give certain passages a more ritualistic and otherworldly vibe. Aldrahn (Urarv ex-Dødheimsgard) makes a guest appearance on “I Burn With You”, with his off-kilter delivery adding another layer of complexity to Hearts of No Light’s unpredictable nature. The aforementioned “A Paradigm of Beauty” is also sure to take some listeners by surprise as it goes for a goth sound not far removed from Behemoth’s last effort, but with arguably better results. There’s a lot to take in on the vocal front and it’s likely to require multiple listens to capture all the details, but the effort is worth it.
It’s likely to be up for debate whether Hearts of No Light reaches even greater heights than Triangle, but it’s clear that Schammasch has remained just as ambitious. The build-ups sprawl outwards more so than ever before and reach some truly staggering heights that overwhelm and entice in equal capacity, and this is another highlight of an already crowded release year. At this point wherever this group may choose to go, they’re capable of drawing you in and not letting you go until the last note has faded from your speakers. Hearts of No Light is available from Prosthetic Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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