Lake of Blood play what, at first blush, seems like pretty standard USBM. The opening song of Omnipotens Tyrannus puts me in mind of a more aggressive version of the Cascadian sound, but like a lot of bands that manage to elevate themselves beyond "serviceable" into good or great territory, the details make all the difference.
That wave of sound that opens "Blood & Mercy" suddenly breaks at just after the 1:30 mark, and you get an awesome, stuttering riff that kicks off a new direction, string scrape included. I usually hate those, but for whatever reason, it just screams "METAL!" here in an utterly satisfying way. The slithery melody line that follows is addictive as anything I've heard in recent memory, and we're off on an 11-minute black metal odyssey.
There are a lot of great touches here. The majority of the vocals are a lower growl than the typical black metal shriek, but it's also mixed with some unhinged howls and even some cleanly chanted vocals in "Agape." The taut, distorted riffing is sometimes overlaid with an acoustic guitar pushed way up in the mix. This isn't done in the usual "Now it's time for a folky interlude" way, but rather it's added as additional texture.
Like the instruments themselves, the song structures in general also have a lot of variety, mixing in slower passages with all the fury. "In Wells of Shadow" features a an eerie, doomy intro that morphs into some of the highest energy music on the album, and ultimately the track mashes the two ideas together in a pretty ingenious way.
If there's one minor fault to the album, it's the length, or more accurately, how that length is delivered. 76 minutes isn't an absurd album length for metal--it can and has been done successfully--but it doesn't completely work here. There are a couple of overly long outros that could have been cut for an overall tighter album, but I think the real issue is the sequencing. The penultimate track, "Omnipotens," is the longest song here, stretching over 16 minutes, and it's probably the most unusual song in terms of structure, sound, and pacing. Having the bulk of that track fall after the 60-minute mark and following it with a three-minute, mostly instrumental outro track can cause a bit of fatigue. I did an experiment where I started with listening to that track first, and I liked it much better that way. I was charmed by its oddities and dissonance in a way that I wasn't when listening to it in the "proper" order of the album.
But that's a problem with an easy solution: If you get a little worn out, press pause and come back to it. Whether or not that track would have made a better standalone EP is a minor gripe compared to the fact that you get so much good music here.
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