Thursday 2 December 2021

Basarabian Hills - The Path of Hope (2021)

Country: Moldova
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 8 Nov 2021
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I don't know where the Basarabian Hills are supposed to be, but I'm guessing they're conjured up from the imagination of the gentleman who goes by Spirit of the Forest and performs everything on Basarabian Hills releases. There are a bunch of these going back to two albums in 2012. I think this is the fifth since then for seven overall, plus a 2016 EP called Attraction, and Mr. Forest seems to have had a thing for the ten minute mark for quite a while. Nothing wraps up sooner than that until album four, 2014's Groping in a Misty Spread, and the four tracks on Stillness of the Codrii in 2013 each ran for exactly that long and not a second less or more.

This one follows his more recent trend of tracks that are long but not quite that long. The four on this album sit in the eight or nine minute range, though the title track very much appears in two separate movements that could easily have been labelled as two separate pieces of music because they seem to do completely different things.

The first sets an outdoor scene with a windy, foggy, atmospheric background, then casts sheets of keyboards against it like rain and then adds a layer of keyboards that chime like bells. That might suggest a Mike Oldfield comparison but that's only partly fair, as this sounds more like a carillon than tubular bells. And, while we might enjoy the melodies that are happening in the foreground (and I do), I get the impression that the background is much more important. This is about setting moods and whoever or whatever those melodies represent is a tiny creature indeed against the vast background that looms behind. And that's the black metal aspect in this atmospheric black metal sound.

Talking of which, there are blastbeasts to introduce the second movement, which is sweeping and regal, as if those melodies have gained power and are processing. Maybe that's why this pair put together are The Path of Hope, because however bleak the situation, it can evolve and grow and end happily. I should mention here that the blastbeats don't continue (though they do reappear as needed), so interested listeners are advised that the "atmospheric" in the atmospheric black genre label is a thousand times more important than the "black metal" component.

I could argue that Stuck in Desolation, title notwithstanding, doesn't shift too far away from the formula that The Path of Hope defined, but I think I like it more. It's clearly one track that's more cohesive and the bell like keyboards are even more melodious and engaging. I could imagine that on this one they're the communications of some alien race that we can't understand but is trying to get their point across to us anyway. They're still trying as we fade out eight and a half minutes in.

I think it's important for atmospheric black metal albums and, to be more expansive, pretty much any instrumental albums, to invoke other senses than just hearing. We don't have to see what the composer saw when he created this music, but we should see or taste or somehow feel something. When I don't, I feel that those albums have failed and are just musical notes strung together. This definitely takes me somewhere and it's telling that each track took me somewhere different. That tells me that this is a success. Another reason for that is that, even though this can be considered cinematic music, it never fell into the background for me, even on repeat listens.

I think Stuck in Desolation is my favourite track here, but From the Depth of Another Realm comes close because it builds really well. Into the Unending Darkness plays well too, even though I got an opposite reaction to it. It feels to me like we've wandered through the unending darkness until we actually found the end and the second half is us walking out into the light, joyous from unexpected discovery. I wondered earlier in the album if The Path of Hope should have wrapped things up but no, Into the Unending Darkness does the same job even better.

I still smile at how black metal, often the bleakest and harshest subgenre of metal, if we choose to ignore powerelectronics, has somehow spawned a host of subgenres that are melodious, calming, even ambient. This is half an hour plus of electronic atmosphere, far from its black metal roots, if not so far we can't see that beginning. And it's good stuff if you're in that mood.

PS: Yes, that has to be the most over the top black metal logo of all time and that's saying something.

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