Style: Progressive Black Metal
Release Date: 1 Jan 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | YouTube
It's about time I reviewed something that isn't just not in English, it's not even in the Latin script. However, even though Ὁπλίτης is a Chinese project, it's actually in the Greek alphabet because Liu Zhenyang, the imagination behind this one man band, is a fan of Greek mythology and that seems to be what this is about, not that lyrics are remotely discernible (and not all these are vocal songs anyway). Then again, his previous release was an album, credited to a concurrent project, Vitriolic Sage, called Feuerschlucker, which is German for Fire Eater. Maybe he's a multilinguist.
He certainly seems to like playing with language, because four songs here boast very close names to four other songs, transforming their meaning in a different direction. Ψευδόμαντις seems to be a transliteration of Pseudomantis, while the almost identically titled Ψευδομάρτυς, right after it, means False Witness. The same goes for the other pairs, each of which sit next to each other on the album, except for the bookends. Suddenly I don't trust Google Translate to handle the nuances I assume are needed for a proper translation.
Few of these songs feature vocals in a traditional sense, meaning that some deliver lyrics like we might expect but some are just vocalisations for effect. It also means that when lyrics do show up, they're delivered in thoroughly different ways. For instance, they're notably traditional on False Witness, a low-pitched and bleak barrage of words to match the low-pitched and bleak barrage of the music behind them. However, they're so buried on Ὁ τῶν δακρύων ψεῦδος (The Tears are a Lie, as against Ὁ τῶν δακρύων ἄγγελος, The Angel of Tears) that they're almost a whisper. The ending shifts into what I presume is a sampled voice.
Either way, what that means is that the music dominates the vocals, and it seems notably keen on dominating everything. It's surprisingly clear given that it seems to be maxing out the wavelength across the board. Every aspect is in your face, whether fast or, well, less fast. I've reviewed albums lately that feel like they need to be turned up, even if your volume knob won't go any further. This one counters that trend, because it feels like we need to turn it down to be able to comprehend it, even if it's not actually that loud. That's because the mixer apparently moved every slider all the way up to eleven and we can't be sure we're actually hearing it all. The peaks are really high.
And that goes for other aspects here. I felt that The Tears are a Lie was a sonic bludgeoning, with vicious intent. This track is akin to being repeatedly beaten around the head in an artistic fashion. My ears may be bleeding but the blood is pooling into the shape of the headdress on the lady in the cover art. However, the next song, The Angel of Tears, enhances that still further, with a fierce escalation in intensity that's almost too much to bear. By the way, the album's Bandcamp page is of the opinion that the cover depicts Ὄλλυμι, which is ancient Greek for "to destroy" or "to lose", but she's really an unidentified sorceress in a painting by Georges Merle called L’Envoûteuse.
And then we get to Μάρτυς (March, as against Μάντις, meaning Mantis). This entire album is fast and I mean really fast. However fast you're imagining, it's faster. But March is faster still. This is a song that may be faster than anything I've ever heard, so fast that I don't think my brain took it all in. It would be fascinating to see if Liu ever plays live under the Ὁπλίτης banner. My guess is that this took some programming to edge over whatever the previous limit was and the album title has an important meaning, Ψευδομένη translating to Fake. That doesn't mean this isn't real music, only that I can't imagine Liu playing it all himself.
As music, it seems like a milestone, a point at which Liu made black metal scary again. The genre's moved a long way in its time, often in directions that nobody expected. Never mind Zeal & Ardor's deliberately bizarre merging with bluegrass, who would have imagined, listening to Bathory back in 1984 that one day the genre he was creating would embrace ambient and dark jazz and add sax to the instrument list? I think it's more likely that they just thought that bands would take it and make it more and more intense. This is a logical step beyond wherever it had got previously.
And I rather enjoyed it. It's clearly black metal above everything else, but there are firm hints of industrial in the bludgeoning beats and nods towards crushing intensity in genres outside metal, bands like Swans and Einstürzende Neubauten, even some Merzbow on Μάρτυς. Yet it wraps up in almost acoustic Jandek territory on Δηλητήρ, which featured some truly frantic basswork earlier on. This isn't just a bludgeoning, it's also the sorceress kissing our wounds better once we recover our senses.
It's very possible that this will be one of the most divisive albums of the year. I can see people not ready for this sort of assault giving it 0/10 and telling their friends that it's the worst album they have ever heard. I can also see die hard black metal fans gleefully going with a 10/10, then telling their friends that it's the most intense experience they've ever had. While acknowledging both as valid opinions, I think I'm going with an 8/10 because this is next level stuff for me. I'm reeling but I'm going to listen to it again tomorrow and see if it stands up. It's too much to repeat again now.
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