While it's not as broadly despised as nu metal, I see a lot of hate hurled at the black metal genre, as if even the guys listening to slamming brutal death metal see it as just noise. And, sure, black metal in its rawest form can often be an underproduced bleak and uncompromising wall of sound, but I believe that it has to be the most versatile extreme subgenre nowadays, as those intense aspects can merge so well with a variety of other genres, not all of which are metal. That black metal can tie so integrally to ambient and jazz and psychedelic rock fascinates me.
Case in point: Five the Hierophant, who play what is often described as post-black metal but could be dark jazz or even progressive rock. They hail from London, though not all their names are rendered in the Latin alphabet—महाकाली translates from the Nepali into Mahakali—and they conjure up what is an enticingly accessible avant-garde sound. It's utterly original even if it reminds of a slew of utterly original bands who play with black metal in unusual ways, like Katharos XIII, White Ward and Oranssi Pazuzu. The other point of comparison I found is to seventies prog bands like Van der Graaf Generator and King Crimson.
It's entirely instrumental in the sense that there's no vocalist, though there are narrative moments to be found, and it incorporates a lot of jazz and ethnic music, saxophone arguably the lead instrument and hand drums occasionally as obvious as any other instrument, such as on Pale Flare Over Marshes. The instrumentation gets strange from the sliding bells that kick off Leaf in the Current; while I knew what djembes are from listening to west African music, I hadn't the faintest idea what a rag-dung was, but it's apparently a long Tibetan trumpet, not something you'd usually hear in a derivative of black metal.
There are five pieces of music on offer here, all over eight minutes and averaging over ten, with Pale Flare Over Marshes only a second shy of fifteen, and I adored the first four.
Leaf in the Current is the majestic opener, Mitch's bass stirring up a dark atmosphere underlined by a deep groove and some urgent beats, then decorated in fascinating fashion by whoever's handling the saxophone. This is prowling dark jazz and it utterly stole my attention for twelve minutes. Fire from Frozen Cloud and Berceuse (for Magnetic Sleep) play in the same ballpark but mix things up a little. They're still dark jazz that nail their groove and overlaid with sax, not just soloing but with timeless drawn out long notes.
All these pieces are magnetic because their grooves are so immersive but they also feature subtleties deep in their backgrounds that are well worth exploring. Even while the sax is at its most prominent and especially when it isn't, I often found myself focused on the bass. I did that a lot on Berceuse, an old name for a particular type of lullaby and it does take the hypnotic nature of these pieces and turn it in that lulling direction, though I was engrossed throughout.
Pale Flare Over Marshes feels a lot looser to me, perhaps because it's longer. It does some of the same things but it feels jazzier and more experimental, breathing a lot more, even with the most overt riff to be found anywhere on the album. I didn't like it as much as the previous three pieces of music, but I still liked it a great deal. It was The Hierophant (II) that left me dry and that's a shame because I had this down as a solid 9/10, challenging Omination for Album of the Month, until that point.
This is a really strange piece to end the album. It reminded me a lot of King Crimson, but it's like the most out there improvisational section of Moonchild got moved to the end of the record instead of serving as an unusual introduction to the killer last track. Like Moonchild, this one does odd things with drums too, starting out with a very progressive slow drum solo, while the atmosphere builds so the saxophone can eventually join in. I didn't hate it but it felt like quite the letdown after the prior four pieces.
And so I guess this has to drop from that 9/10, but not far. This still gets a solid 8/10 from me and it's one more fascinating album in a month when I've aleady reviewed Nepal Death and Omination. Now I'm eager to check out the prior Five the Hierophant album, Over Phlegethon, which was their debut in 2017, and a couple of EPs that are longer than most albums, Magnetic Sleep Tapes Vols. I and II, especially if they sound like Berceuse.