January 26, 2016

Wildernessking - Mystical Future

By Justin C.

I've gotten into a somewhat unfortunate pattern lately, ending each year with some unpleasant surgical procedure. Luckily, I've also gotten hold of album promos around the same time that have provided some comfort. Last year, Lotus Thief got me through a rough patch of recovery, and this year, it was Wildernessking's turn to figuratively babysit me with their new album, Mystical Future. Stylistically, these two bands don't share a lot of sonic territory, but both have that all-important power to take you to other places.

The intricacies of how Wildernessking fits into the vague "post-black metal" category has been covered elsewhere, and our friend Andy Synn at No Clean Singing does the topic much more justice than I could. That said, I have to admit that I came to be a bit obsessed with perhaps the least black metal track on the album, "To Transcend." This would be a lovely piece of music that would probably easily translate to almost any genre, although of course there are some far-away-yet-still-harsh vocals deep in the mix, keeping things black and frosty. The delicate instrumentation puts me firmly in mind of walking down an abandoned beach in the cold off-season. And believe me, I clung to that feeling during a December bone biopsy when a doctor was literally using a hammer to chisel away a piece of my hip bone under only a local anesthetic. So somewhat unfairly, this album will always have a close tie to the feeling of someone trying to pound a railroad spike into my pelvis, but on the plus side, this wide-ranging music was an excellent refuge, and I think it will easily outlast any unsavory associations.

"To Transcend" might be more delicate than the rest of the album, but it's part and parcel with the overall feeling the band has achieved here. At times, I hear strong hints of shoegaze, particularly in "With Arms Like Wands," but it's been truly absorbed into the band's unique sound. The melodies are aching and powerful, and they often come in on waves of sound. There's still plenty of black metal to be found, of course, but the throat-burning vocals, melodic tremolos, and blasting drums, when present, all serve a very particular vision of songwriting, making detailed discussions of influence and stylistic cues beside the point. In fact, I had plans of a more detailed, perhaps even academic breakdown of the band's progression, but I ultimately abandoned that idea. The album is so expansive, and oftentimes wistful, that it seemed like a more analytic approach would be like teaching an art appreciation course focused solely on the chemical compositions of the paint used. The five tracks make up a cohesive whole, in concept and sound, and teasing it apart wouldn't do it justice. Wildernessking are pushing on the boundaries of black metal, which does the whole genre a great service, and Mystical Future is a remarkable gem to kick off 2016 with.

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