Scarlet Empyrean was a random discovery of mine when doing a Metal Archives dive of recent material that has come out, and it also serves as the first release for new label Heaven’s Night. Formed only a few years ago as the solo work of US musician Nattlyd, the band’s first EP Nysthica showcases a mix of traditional and atmospheric black metal that spans older and newer influences. Spread across three tracks, Nysthica strikes a balance between warmer, reflective atmosphere and harsher, shriller riffs that create a much tenser soundscape. There’s still room for Nattlyd to further develop the styles showcased here to push Scarlet Empyrean towards its own identify, but this is a strong foundation that’s already far ahead of your average one-man project.
With the sheer volume of content being uploaded to Bandcamp daily, mentioning that this is a one-man black metal project is likely to bring thoughts of extremely rough production and basic second wave worship. But Scarlet Empyrean already has an advantage in this regard, coming out of the gate with a notably polished and nuanced production. Opener “Eros & Dust” is appropriately dense, creating layers of melancholic guitar that hover over a rumbling foundation. This first track goes for a mid-tempo approach, pulling in elements of atmospheric and even depressive black metal as it expands outwards at a methodical pace and utilizes tonality that has a calmer, reflective feel to it. The base riff does start to become slightly repetitive as the song progresses, but the additional leads that appear after a few minutes shake things up a bit and give a brighter sheen to the track. Scarlet Empyrean doesn’t stay in one place for too long though, as “Clever Hope Expires” and “The Edge of Life” transition over to the harsher side of the spectrum. The former utilizes a haunting ambient opening before moving into fast and mid-tempo riffs that bring some of that familiar chill and jagged edges into the mix, while the latter goes for an even denser attack. Here the band reminds me of older US black metal like Judas Iscariot as well as more recent acts like Yellow Eyes, as the way the material ebbs and flows has some similarities. Admittedly “Clever Hope Expires” does overstay its welcome a bit and falls into some repetition, as it does have some interesting transitions and more ominous riffing towards the end but takes a little too long to get there. Scarlet Empyrean also has room to further expand upon the different facets of its sound to push towards something even more unique, and I’d be curious if Nattlyd could merge the more depressive and somber approach of that first song with the more aggressive and darker sound of the other two in the future.
The vocals on Nysthica are varied and span the full range of screams and growls, giving Scarlet Empyrean a bit more diversity than your average black metal act. “Eros & Dust” showcases this early on, starting off with ear piercing shrieks that give way to some lower growls. Nattlyd has layered the vocals similarly to the instrumentation, allowing them to naturally overlap and create some tense moments where the shrieks and growls work in tandem to attack the listener. The power of the lower ranges reminds me quite a bit of M. Rekevics from Vanum, and that adds to the appeal of Scarlet Empyrean’s material as it gives some real force to the performance. It’s clear that Nattlyd has spent some time developing these vocal styles as the transition between the highs and lows is natural, and no matter where a particular passage goes it keeps a consistent amount of intensity.
Scarlet Empyrean’s debut brings a lot of US black metal to mind from both the atmospheric and traditional side of the house, and there’s also some hints of the depressive side added in for good measure. The lengthier nine-minute piece does fall into some repetition and Nattlyd has left himself room to further develop these different sides and find a unique space within the genre. But I’ve still found myself drawn back to this one for its combination of somber and aggressive riffs alongside the impressive vocal work. It’ll be interesting to see where the project goes from here, as it seems to be hinting at even greater things to come. Nysthica is available from Heaven’s Night.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg