Moonlit Navigation by InexorumRelease date: June 26, 2020
Label: Gilead Media
It’s difficult to reconcile the fact that an album of melodic death intersecting with elements of black metal could ultimately be celebratory, but that is exactly what Moonlit Navigation, the sophomore album from Inexorum, is. The title itself suggests as much, serving less as cvlt rhetoric and mood-setter and far more as metaphor; despite the darkness there will always be a sliver of light to navigate the path through or away from it.
Although always having a penchant for different heavy music since inception, Gilead Media in recent years have truly expanded their roster beyond the black metal and doom that I came to know and admire them for. While on paper Inexorum may seem closer to the label’s core than others such as Buildings and Wailin Storms, they actually belong to this cluster far more in my opinion than, for example, Glacial Tomb and False. You would be forgiven for believing I’m overstretching if one glances at Moonlit Navigation’s artwork (by Brooks Wilson of Crypt Sermon), but the ear for melodicism is so strong on this record, that it’s hard not to believe that the duo would fit equally well on a punk/rock gig as on a death/black metal one.
Moonlit Navigation kicks off with ‘Ouroboric State’, which feels like a dove-tailed continuation from their LP, Lore of the Lakes. The aforementioned debut was a brilliant introduction to Inexorum and tonally the duo’s new album compliments it perfectly. However, a quick look at the details of both does uncover a major difference. Lore of the Lakes comes in at five tracks with just over thirty minutes of music, whereas Moonlit Navigation features eight tracks at little over forty. Inexorum seem to have honed their sound and particularly their songwriting further, instilling a brevity into their ethos. Doing the maths, it’s a subtle, very slight tightening of the belt, but it is very noticeable when comparing the two on subsequent listens. Their debut absolutely did not outstay its welcome in any way, shape or form, but there were occasional refrains and motifs repeated on tracks that with hindsight were perhaps not needed. Carl Skildum and Matthew Kirkwold (both known for Antiverse and live members of Obsequiae) have shaved off those ever-so-slight rough edges to produce an album as clear and illuminating as moonlight piercing a forest canopy at night.
‘Ouroboric State’ introduces us to the sonic tapestry that much of Moonlit Navigation will follow. Guitar that shreds and grows increasingly technical, but that also features the melodic, tonally ‘pure’ production that many listeners will recognise from the melodic blackened death glory days of the mid-90s, especially courtesy of the glut of bands that came from Sweden (think Vinterland and Unanimated). For a more contemporary touchstone, some of the production on the guitar and bass sounds like Adam Dutkiewicz’s work on Killswitch Engage’s own sophomore record Alive or Just Breathing? before he and the band went down a far too polished route on following albums. I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of that particular sound, for the most part, or indeed the collection of 90s bands who created the formula and inspiration on which Inexorum clearly take large cues. However, there’s something about this record that does chime with me.
The album title track follows, featuring some sublime, intense drumming and the furious death metal vocals (all around a middling pitch in terms of range – no guttural or shrieking here) that one would expect. The song is languid, dreamy and evokes, for me, a figure stumbling through the woods, almost sleepwalking. What the band has the ability to do and does so, so cleverly is create a cinematic landscape for the listener. This album conjures flashes of scene and colour and invokes a deeply emotional hold over its audience. Aptly, ‘Dream and Memory’ comes after and, on balance, remains my favourite track on the LP. Powerful, evocative again and yet thoroughly heavy, it also features some true headbanging moments from around the halfway point on, instilling a little thrash in the auditory mix here, too. ‘Chains of Loss’, likewise, is a track to bounce to and easily the most closely wound, tightly sprung song on Moonlit Navigation.
What then follows is the album’s centrepiece, the only track that breaches the seven-minute mark. ‘Signal Fires’ never feels lengthy though, featuring thundering drums, pummelling bass and truly magnificent guitar work. Unrelenting and epic in scope, it sets up following track ‘The Breaking Point’ to continue its own legacy of surging rhythms, unstoppable riffs and understated harsh vocals. ‘Wild Magic’ serves as a temporary salve, a picked, gorgeous instrumental segue, before we a thrown headlong into the maelstrom of ‘In Desperate Times’. The final track of the album is a fitting closer, bringing together all the sounds Inexorum have weaved throughout and that we have grown accustomed to on the record, with lyrics that point to hope and encouragement to work through difficult times.
Inexorum’s second album was written after the loss of a dear friend and much of it lyrically and sonically make sense in the wake of that knowledge. However, the music they have painted on their canvas is ripe for reinterpretation and redefinition for individual listeners. For me, now, it strikes me as an album to strengthen the heart during such desperate times, none more so than in 2020 as a global pandemic continues its inexorable spread, or the fight for justice and equality the Black Lives Matter movement embodies (Inexorum are in fact based in Minnesota, the capital of which, Minneapolis, was where George Floyd was killed and the huge BLM protests of 2020 originated).
Moving, melodic and providing a ray of hope through troubled times (moonlight to balm and soothe the soul), that celebrates the vanquishing of the dark, Inexorum’s sophomore LP is a fantastic listen and its message and tone much needed in a year full of horrors.