Thursday, 6 February 2020

Vengeful Spectre - Vengeful Spectre (2020)



Country: China
Style: Black/Folk Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 15 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Weibo

I wasn't expecting it but here's something special. Vengeful Spectre play an impressive combination of black and folk metal that works on both fronts. I just wish that I could praise the individual band members but there isn't a lot of core information on Vengeful Spectre's Bandcamp or Facebook pages and I won't trust Google Translate to attempt a page on the Chinese social media network Weibo.

This truly blisters as black metal, with strong riffs, decent solos, frantic blastbeats and a glorious lead vocal shriek that ably plays into the torment and pain of the album's war-based concept. I have no idea what the story is, but it unfolds over the six tracks on offer. It's much more black than it is folk, but there are Chinese folk instruments in play too, sometimes during the actual songs and frequently between them. In fact, the whole album opens peacefully but darkly as plaintive flutes waft over a landscape that surely resembles the cover art. The job's done but it took a serious toll.

The first song, The Expendables, is thoroughly enjoyable with what I believe is a pipa punctuating certain parts. I adore pipa and remember how much fun it was to get hold of a Wu Man album I'd been introduced to on the BBC World Service before the internet made it easy. However, as solid as this song is, Desperate War ups the game considerably. This is a real peach of a piece of music, everything that was good about the opener doubled in power, intensity and impact. This could be the single best black metal track I've heard in years.

Wailing Wrath starts and ends with a wind instrument that I can't place, but it sounds delightfully like a versatile conch shell and it gets a lead role in the brief interlude called Hermit. Wailing Wrath settles down a lot more than its predecessor, content for the most part to find a strong groove for ethnic instruments to dance around, but there are impressive bits here too.

And, at this point, I realised that I was well over twenty minutes in even though I felt like the album had only just begun. I was so immersed that I'd lost track of time completely. The only reason that I noticed at this point is because Hermit (and the subsequent long intro to Rainy Night Carnage) is a brief eye to the raging storm that is this album, allowing us a moment to gather ourselves before moving back into the fray.

If nothing here is up to the sheer majesty of Desperate War, then Rainy Day Carnage does at least come very close. While it's also more black than folk, it's the song where the folk instruments come out to play more and it's much more balanced as a black/folk song. There's more pipa and some flute and I'd love to know what else. That level adds strong atmosphere to this and other songs just as much as the constant rain and other sounds of battle that are often audible.

That leaves Despair and Resentment, which wraps up this story "of eastern swordsmen concerning war, conspiracy, betrayal and revenge". It opens calmly as if we're in the aftermath of everything but then everything kicks in, at a slower but just as heavy pace. There's acknowledgement of inevitability in this song, dealing with what everyone knew would come even as they hoped it wouldn't. That lead voice feels even more pained and that's exquisite.

I grabbed the opportunity to listen to this album more from the folk aspect than the black, so I ought to be disappointed that it's more focused on the latter than the former. I'm not. I adored this, because it blisters the way that black metal so often fails to do and the folk instrumentation is added into the mix effectively. I believe this is a debut album, which makes it an even more stunning achievement.

It's not perfect, even without knowing the story that's being told. There's a jagged transition from calm intro to full steam ahead on The Expendables that's only underlined by how smoothly the intros transition on later tracks like Rainy Night Carnage. I didn't feel the album ended with enough emphasis either, though again understanding the story might help a little. Those are far from big problems though and they hardly lessen the impact of a special album. This is fantastic stuff. Can we have the sequel next week?

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