Overall Score: 9/10 Instrumentation: 9/10 Songwriting: 9/10 Impact: 10/10 Pros: Epic, sprawling and wondrous | One of the finest extreme albums of the year Cons: Nothing
Following up a notable or renowned album is no easy task. Often the successor, regardless of quality, is looked down upon by comparison to the prior release: Machine Head’s Unto the Locust is unfairly lambasted, Tool’s 10,000 Days doesn’t get its due credit and Load is seen as something of a misstep. Each of these albums are incredible works of art in their own right, but suffer from being the follow on from The Blackening, Lateralus and The Black Album (as it is colloquially known) respectively. Hence they are judged with bias and prejudice. For Schammasch, following up the monolithic triple album, Triangle, presents a set of circumstances that are unenviable to say the least: They must sate both their fans with a work of spiraling dexterity, and themselves with their quality of works. All this brings us to their fourth full length LP, Hearts Of No Light, and with it a whole host of analysis.
Classical pianist, Lillian Liu, opens the album with an elegiac solo. It sets the scene for a classy affair, a sprawling journey of eclecticism you are about to undergo. Winds That Pierce The Silence is an instrumental track that broods, blooming through exquisite restraint and instrumentation. There’s an underlying sense of menace as the quiet guitars pluck gently, while almost industrial noises swirl in the aether. It leads into the colossal Ego Sum Omega. This second track follows in a similar vein to its predecessor building over its eight minute run time, but this time all the stops are pulled out.
Notable on this album is the outfit’s expansion. This is both physical and sonic as Schammasch are now a quintet, and the cascading sonic torrent of their music has a fresh new production that accentuates the subtlety of their instrumentation. Listening to a song like Qadmon’s Heir may not seem like the height of subtlety with its blasting beats and furiously growled vocals – it does in fact sound a lot like modern day Behemoth – but there are so many intricacies and layers interwoven into the fabric of the track. Histrionics and harmonies are abstrusely hidden in the mix through feather touches of production, and only reveal themselves through focused listening. The movements of this work are myriad and complex, necessitating multiple listens.
‘The fathoms of truth are where darkness is deep and triumphant… ’. Lyrically this album delights in philosophical intellectualism. The opening lines of Ego Sum Omega could be read as faux-intelligentsia ramblings, or more aptly as something that requires thought. These are not lyrics built on sloganeering for base level enjoyment, but poetic declarations of infernal machinations. They are superbly written and allow space for the voice to act primarily as an instrument, but also as a conduit for deep, meaningful musings on the nature of reality and the dark side of existence.
‘In your domain, Time is dissolved, Leaving but liquid, Radiant….’. The album’s fluidity is impressive and for a record clocking in at over one hour it never releases a stranglehold on your attention. Innermost, Lowermost Abyss, the album’s denouement is in particular the most ambitious and expansive the band get on Hearts Of No Light, and perhaps showcases Schammasch at their understated best. Growing from a whispered refrain, the song is an exercise in subtle intensity. It never feels the need to become a horrifying explosion of noise, but instead a deeply unsettling epilogue to the torturous journey. You can feel the performances rather than simply listen to them.
Hearts Of No Light is a stunning record, multifaceted and spiralling ad infinitum. Perhaps the best extreme work of the year, the record flows beautifully between sombre refrains of acoustic guitars and piano to full fledged scathing black metal that flays the skin from your body. Enduring the exhausting moments gives way to placid passages that, while underwritten by a sense of malice, allow breathing space in amongst the dread. It is an album of meticulous construction. It is an album of superb musicality. There is barely a wasted second or misplaced note, and it serves as a more than worthy successor to Triangle. Yet another opus from one of the most exciting bands working today, this is a must listen. ‘The pulse of a lifelong ordeal’, this record is a stark look at the bleakness of inhumanity, and stands out as one of 2019’s finest.
The new Schammasch album, Hearts Of No Light is set for release on November 8th 2019 via Prosthetic Records.