Wednesday 24 February 2021

Yoth Iria - As the Flame Withers (2021)

Country: Atmospheric Black Metal
Style: Greece
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Jan 2021
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Yoth Iria is a new band, formed in 2019, and this is their debut album, but the two men involved have quite the history in Greek extreme music and black metal in particular. Bassist Jim Mutilator was one of the co-founders of Rotting Christ, back when they played grindcore, and he remained with them for a decade. He also co-founded Varathron and was part of their line-up for their first five years, but he's been gone from the scene for a long time, as a musician at least. The vocalist known here as the Magus was also in Rotting Christ, as well as Necromantia and Thou Art Lord, among many others.

All of which means that it's really not surprising when The Great Hunter is a decent opener. It's heavy and fast and black with a doomy drone in the midsection. It's nothing outrageous or innovative but it ably demonstrates that these folks still have it, even if they haven't been using it for a while. It's Yoth Iria, though, the second song, that really made my attention perk up. This one isn't heavy and fast and black, at least not in the way that we're expecting after that opener.

It's more interesting from moment one, with a vaguely middle eastern intro that defines the song, as that theme permeates the song, shifting from instrument. It heavies up, but never gets fast and never gets particularly black either, except for the commanding voice of the Magus, which is an archetypal black shriek and very consistent, whatever his tone. He narrates and chants and shrieks, with massive amounts of intonation, but it's all in done in that beautifully evil voice. I love the outro too, which is a gradually decreasing thing, dropping to bass and keyboards and then just those pulsing keyboards from guest musician John Patsouris.

And so we realise that this isn't just the decent new black metal album from a couple of old names. It's an album rooted in black metal that experiments to see what else they can do with the genre. It plays in doom, without getting weighty and oppressive, but also in traditional heavy metal, folk and gothic metal too.

For instance, while I can't particularly quantify it, I continually felt during Yoth Iria like I was hearing an Iron Maiden song translated into another genre. I think it's the storytelling style. Hermetic Code starts out with a riff worthy of Satyricon in their heavy metal days, but it becomes very folky during a dramatic black metal midsection and during the outro. That midsection also features those Patsouris keyboards elevating this music once more, and they're a constant reminder here that we're listening to something beyond pure black metal.

The Mantis builds on the Magus's narrative style in Yoth Iria and the midsection of Hermetic Code to get even more dramatic, with choir effects layered in for emphasis. By this point, it feels like there's something visual going on that I should be watching while I'm listening, like this is a soundtrack to a black metal opera. Again, though, the black is mostly in the vocals, the Magus stalking the stage in an impressive costume dominating our attention with the swagger of an Alice Cooper (or the god on the album cover), while the music is traditional in a Mercyful Fate vein.

The Red Crown Turns Black is faster and more traditional atmospheric black metal, though it doesn't quite become a wall of sound and it continues to expand beyond its genre, ending with more of those reminders of Iron Maiden, even though it features particularly galloping drums from JV Maelstrom, another guest musician, who was in Thou Art Lord with the Magus. The other guest that I've skipped over thus far is George Emmanuel of Lucifer's Child, who played guitar live with Rotting Christ for a majority of the previous decade.

I've run through each song thus far because they're all different and interesting in their way. Unborn Undead Eternal continues that, with a gothic feel laid over Celtic Frost bedrock, something that flows less notably into Tyrants, which at seven tracks into eight is the first song not to do anything new on this album, if we exclude the industrial effects at the very end. And that leaves The Luciferian to wrap up the album and that does quite a lot, even if it's the least engaging song for me.

So I'm not going to put down the bookends but they vanish on me. Every time I listen through, I get re-engaged by Yoth Iria and stay captivated until the end of Unborn Undead Eternal, at which point I drift away. That half hour in the middle is fascinating and 8/10 for sure. With the rest put back in, it's still a solid 7/10 from me.

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