Relatos de Angustia by SelbstRelease date: August 7, 2020
Label: Debemur Morti Records
Selbst are a black metal band for connoisseurs of black metal. Those who are not, will still surely enjoy Relatos de Angustia – translated as ‘Stories of Anguish’ – with its overwhelming power and its ability to delight the listener in both technical dexterity and truly ear-worm riffery. However, delve a little deeper and you can hear a cauldron of different sub-genres of their dark, frozen forebear, coalescing, performing fission and swirling in paradoxical, immiscible union.
The band, who hail from Venezuela, but now call Chile home, manage to take some of the very best elements of the French transcendent take on black metal and Iceland’s freeze-burn excoriation of the form, and meld them further with more oblique sub-genres, such as DSBM and the stranger post-black metal forms that have emanated from Central and Eastern Europe in recent years or those wield a similarly melodic backbone despite harsh vocals, such as Mgła. Perhaps they have achieved this from being at such a remove from the European scenes aforementioned, but I believe it is far more likely that we are dealing with some unique musical minds.
Yes, the influences are there and they have clearly digested them from their South American enclave, but it seems reductive to deduce it as down to geography alone. After all, I hear very, very little North American black metal influence in Relatos de Angustia. Either way, to someone who listens to a lot of black metal, Selbst are doing something rather extraordinary. The South American black metal scene is incredibly fertile right now, yet little discussed, except in the depths of internet message-boards. Perhaps this band’s sophomore full-length will do something to change that.
Relatos de Angustia opens with the foreboding intro track ‘Praeludium’, a fantastic scene-setter for the whole album, despite it being short and instrumental. It exudes both menace and melodicism, yet still packs a punch from a heavy and emotive angle, too. A really strong example of where an introductory track doesn’t have be largely pointless and gratuitous, as so many are these days. This serves a purpose – and upon repeated listens, I simply cannot imagine the album launching into ‘Deafening Wailing of the Desperate Ones’ without it.
This second track whips into a frustrated torment almost immediately but underpinning it, at all times, is the melodic guitar work that keeps the album far more appealing to a wider fanbase than the vocals in isolation would suggest. Technically assured drums and bass weaving throughout the album and are recorded in such a way as to make them drive the music ever forward without encroaching on the often gorgeous guitar work flowing above. At times this can count against certain moments in tracks, where one wishes the bass had a little more room to breathe or the compression was just somewhat less, so that it didn’t feel quite as ‘boxed’. Similarly, the drums occasionally could do with just that bit more bite. However, this is getting down to some really fine points of criticism. Overall, the album is extremely well produced.
‘The Depths of Selfishness’ passes by in a flurry of immense tremolo guitars and some furious drumming. The dynamics of this track are indicative of the project as a whole. Selbst already seem masters in an almost tidal approach to pacing and volume – always keeping the listener active and invested. Many bands never manage to evoke such edge of the seat listening, yet Selbst have found it on only their second album. Perhaps it should come as less of a surprise when one discovers that the band have been perfecting their art across almost a decade long career. After the intro and two deeply impressive five minute blasts, Selbst become more expansive, with each of the next four tracks being longer than the openers and closing track ‘Let the Pain Run Through’ being just shy of nine minutes in length.
‘Silent Soul Throes’ unpicks the structure gone before, becoming more plaintive, with chords ringing out longer and some sublime solos flitting around the main melody and strong rhythmic backbone. It begins to feel… well… epic! With primary songwriter N’s vocals bellowing above it soon sounds like a call to war, after suffering heavy defeat. A maxim to stem the tide and push back. It’s melancholy and beautiful in equal measure and is a standout in an album of standout tracks. ‘The Weight of Breathing’ follows, working, at first, from a similar framework, with a simple secondary riff that soon strangles the aforementioned and insists it moves elsewhere; an ingenious device that serves as a bridge to a moving mid-section before the track explodes into some semi-operatic melodic singing. After such heaviness thus far, it is the perfect juxtaposition and lifts the track and listener to the heavens, before Selbst envelop it back into their tumultuous yet deftly melodic maelstrom.
‘Sculpting the Dirtiness of Its Existence’ is another excellent track, following very much in the vein of much that has gone before, but certainly with its own unique personality, too. The final minute’s worth of sublime guitar work is so special and strangely catchy, that it’s worth the price of admission alone. Then we are greeted by final track, the sprawling ‘Let the Pain Run Through’, to which it immediately becomes apparent the entirety of Relatos de Angustia has been building toward. Talk about sticking an ending…
Starting out more reserved than all than have come before, the drawn out, doom-esque guitar intro, only kicks into gear as the vocals enter the fray around the two-minute mark. The track still keeps its reserve, but the drum work in particular ebbs and flows, hinting that Selbst are soon ready to shock and delight. Yet, the final track continues its subtle approach, drawing us along their dark path, with synths weaving their way into the mix as the guitars provide a languid pattern that evokes a sense of an endless maze, before N’s guttural screams slowly become more and more impassioned and a solo breaks the dead heat, and the last two minutes rupture into glorious vocals that remind me of the tribal drawl that Minsk evoked on ‘Embers’, the opening track to their sophomore record, The Ritual Fires of Abandonment.
It’s a fantastic close to an extremely impressive album. This is exactly when I feel the pang about the global pandemic the most – I immediately want Selbst to be able to travel so I can catch them somewhere in the UK or Europe. We will, of course, have to wait for that pleasure. The tracks on Relatos de Angustia will sound absolutely incredible live, of that I am absolutely convinced. A black metal album to cherish, and one for those who love the genre to delight in picking apart, discussing and deep, lights-off listens.