Through the Burning Glass by AnshelmRelease date: April 5, 2018
Label: Wishful Thinking
This is the debut album by Anshelm, who come out of Southern California. Through the Burning Glass is put out on the Wishful Thinking label, who have also brought us the dark, disturbing ambience of Rare Form in recent months. Anshelm make the kind of black metal that takes you back to the late 80s and early 90s, with a pummelling sound that conjures scene pioneers Bathory and Darkthrone. Not for these guys posing in the woods with sticks or gazing wistfully at mountain landscapes, Anshelm were formed from the molten wax of the black candles around Quorthorn’s pentagram. Much as I love virtually all the varied directions black metal has taken, from the just-alluded-to environmentalism of WITTR and Agalloch, to the pagan folk-influenced sounds of Myrkur, to the progressive explorations of Enslaved or the blackened death of God Seed, Anshelm eschew all that and go back to the artform’s roots. And it hits you in the face like a shovel.
The production is rough and dense – there’s not much light between the trees in this forest. On most tracks the guitars keep up a tremelloed intensity that creates its own dynamic. There’s a lot of melody woven into the dissonance and fervour of the music. On standout single ‘Caduceus Spine’ in particular there’s a kind of looped riff that weedles its way into your brain on repeat listens. The drums keep up with the tempo of the frenzied guitar, although they’re pretty low in the mix as to merge into the background of the frenzy. Vocalist Pyralis’ rough growl tops it all to complete the old-school package. In a few places, not least ‘Wrath’s Dagger’, there’s a nod to some classic heavy metal riffing that brought a smile to my face.
A couple of tracks break the mould, with ‘The Bitter Harvest’ being an acoustic lament with words almost spoken by Pyralis over the top. The acoustic picking isn’t terribly skilful on this track, and I hope it’s not a sign that, guitar-wise, Anshelm are one-trick black metal ponies. Closer ‘Conspiring with Fire’ is more interesting, with an ambient drone and spoken words over the top. As a creative choice the band don’t include lyrics with the release, but there’s a dark theme and strong narrative that runs through the song titles and the few words you can make out. These quieter tracks add to that air of mystery.
Anshelm’s debut release shows the promise of a bunch of guys finding their feet, busting out of current trends and going back to basics. The result is a spirited, straightforward if not entirely flawless return to the roots of black metal. The atmosphere and depth of feeling demonstrated in the last track suggest that there may be more nuanced, progressive material to come from Anshelm as they develop as a band. I look forward to it.