I had an absolute blast with The Forlorn Soldier, technically an EP by Pure Wrath but one that was long enough to think of as an album. It was my runner up for Album of the Month in March of that year, nudging out the excellent Ghost Toast and My Dying Bride albums but losing out to the new Harem Scarem. Well, Januaryo Hardy, the man behind this project, is back with an full album, his third such as Pure Wrath, with a live album, that 2020 EP and a split release with Onirism available on Bandcamp too. I haven't heard most of that, but I really should carve out time to dig into it.
Januaryo is responsible for the vast majority of what's here, providing the vocals and most of the instrumentation, including guitar, bass and synths. He's also the songwriter, lyricist and, I expect, producer. He doesn't play the drums, which are, as last time out, the work of Yurii Kononov, an ex-drummer for White Ward. Also returning from that EP is Dice Midyanti to contribute piano, cello and "additional elements", whatever they are. Certainly, there's plenty of atmosphere within this atmospheric black metal, so I expect Midyanti is responsible for some of that.
Both are obvious from the outset, Midyanti's cello there as The Cloak of Disquiet kicks things into motion, an elegant sway in companionship with acoustic guitar, before the electrics take over and take over hard, Kononov's frantic drumming setting the pace. Suddenly, we're in full black metal onslaught, albeit with a slow sweeping melody floating through that wall of sound. There perhaps aren't as many dynamic shifts in this one as I'd have liked, but there are points where everything drops away for a slower section for texture.
Certainly, there's some elegant piano work to wrap up Years of Silence, alongside an odd shaking sound that's both enticing and creepy, like a bundle of rushes being beaten against a stone floor. That piano had already made a major effect in the song, minimal but very noticeable tinkling at a number of points. It's this song that also made the theme clear to me, which is grief, that piano an overt expression of such. Also, while the majority of the vocals phrase black metal shrieks as howls of anguish, there's a slower section midway that's dirge like, an outpouring of grief that wouldn't be out of place in a church, sans the music around it.
It's fair to say that I enjoyed this album through its first three tracks, and more on a second listen, but not as much as I enjoyed The Forlorn Soldier. Years of Silence is my pick from those three, even if Presages from a Restless Soul is a real grower of a song, but the streak of genius that was there last time out seemed to be missing. Well, it shows back up on Footprints of the Lost Child, because this is the Pure Wrath I was so impressed by on that EP.
It's strong from the outset, with an almost Iron Maiden melody under its wall of sound, while the vocals are a neatly creeping layer on top but the midsection is simply magnificent. In a subtle turn of mood, things got almost upbeat a couple of minutes in, as if the choral voices are celebrating a life rather than mourning a loss. It's at the five minute mark that it starts to steal our breath, with piano, cello, slow drums and whatever the other sound is merging into an inviting nest of comfort. The backing vocals as the song wraps are welcoming and comforting too. It's quite the piece and I'd have no hesitation calling it the standout track.
There are a couple more songs to come, Those Who Stand Still having some notable moments and Hymn to the Woeful Hearts being a very different closer, not a black metal song at all, more of a respite from the pain and grief inherent in everything thus far. It's almost like the album up to this point is a musical interpretation of all the heartbreak hidden (or not so hidden) by the attendees at an emotional service for the lost, with the title track the peaceful instrumental played as everyone's filing out to rejoin their lives. There's a guest here, Nick Kushnir on "guitar elements", but I don't know what that really means.
So, more powerful and thoughtful stuff from Januaryo Hardy. I'm not convinced that this is quite up to the standard of The Forlorn Soldier, but it's really good stuff and, when it's at its peak, with Footprints of the Lost Child, it's magnificent.