Full Length, Self-released / Pagan Flames Productions
May 6th, 2011
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
I probably should be posting a record from my year end list, or at least something from 2012 since I slacked like mad the last quarter of it, or fuck it — one from this year! But nope, here I am presenting you with a tucked away and very powerful black metal record from the second quarter of 2011.
So Merkaba. Another relatively unknown black metal group this time from Kentucky, within the Panopticon/Lundr circle of Pagan Flames, who have a split with Wheels Within Wheels and a demo apart from this LP. I had heard of them through Panopticon but at the time I didn't know about the demo. I did hear a 15 minute track I got from Merkaba's site/facebookpage and enjoyed it but I guess I never followed up.
Then not long ago I was trying to catch up on records and pack shit up when through a random (but not uncommon) internet journey I discovered Merkaba had released two records since I had checked. Naturally I procured a copy of Bones Of The Sacred Forest and waited for when I was done catching up on shit I hadn't heard from 2012.
I listened to this ta few times last week and was pleasantly surprised, leading me to spin it more and more in the last few days. Merkaba do sound quite primal and lo-fi, and for a US atmospheric black metal record this album barely stretches past 35 minutes, and it's five tracks long with none of them being filler or spilling past 10 minutes; all of which is fairly unusual especially considering Merkaba don't necessarily sound remarkable.
Actually what I really like about Bones of the Sacred Forest is that at various points in its multiple spells it's conjuring a sound quite close to what Wolves In The Throne Room's first record Diadem of 12 Stars did, but a little darker (ala Fell Voices) and with a slight Kentucky vibe threaded throughout.
The perfect example is right of the bat on "Faultline" where the two big riffs for the first five minutes just feel like "Queen of the Borrowed Light". I said feel not "sound" because it's not just a style thing. The approach while obviously in the cascadian style is still different from WITTR's: more minimal, darker, more suffocating, less chunky, faster. What Merkaba do at various point on "Bones..." is recreate a feeling that I get specifically when I hear that record . "We Seem To Pass Like Ships In The Night" is another song where I get that distinct almost nostalgia-like tingle, the two main riffs ripping through the darkened lament repeatedly. Both of these songs become very pained and urgent.
It's not that Diadem of 12 Stars is necessarily that spectacular of a record or vastly unique/superior to other records in the genre (it is my favorite of theirs though). It's just that like with Weakling's Dead As Dreams, ever since WITTR dropped that record (or arguably the following album, ever indebted to that aforementioned record) a slew of other bands were inspired to recreate what it did, always producing aberrations of that sound; sometimes fucking awesome and unique in their own right and sometimes underwhelming. I think Merkaba may have on at least two or three tracks here recaptured whatever spirit WITTR had channeled in the forests of the west coast.
Having said that it's not like they don't have a sound all their own on Bones of the Sacred Forest. The three other tracks here have a more distinct sound apart from that influence. "Continuum" is a short semi-folk, tribal instrumental giving off a mid-east luster, while "Eyes Lose Focus" is a little more slow with sparkling clean melodies. This is what I would imagine it would sound like if Irepress were playing Braveyoung. It breaks into tremolo riff wonderfulness before the half point in hypnotizing fashion and by the final minutes very much escaping Diadem's orbit.
The final track "Glacial Fire" leans more towards what Skagos did on their debut LP. A slow start of clean droning chords and woodwind instruments, quick drumming for the first bit before diving into distortion and blowing up. At which point (5 minute mark) there's a huge climb with a barely audible flute (?) in the background that works surprisingly well (better then on Panopticon's last album), the change up in the drums part way through this is great too.
The production really helps the foggy and sorrowful atmosphere, Bones of the Sacred Forest feels really thick. Somethings strange with the reverb. When huge riffs are swelling like in the third track near the end the riffs feel like they're suspended droning, almost hallucinogen-induced tracers; it feels far more full and lingering than regular reverb.
Again I have not heard much material outside of this, so my perception is a little limited and I may just be crazy about the Diadem of 12 Stars comparison here, but even so I don't think it is (and am not commenting on it like it is) a negative aspect. Maybe for some it is. I like it and think they're usuing it well to mold their sound into something fantastic.
I'm really enjoying this, and I'm gonna say this is better than what WITTR last released by fuckin miles. Innovative? Nope but fuck it, I'm pleased by what this Kentucky triad have expressed on this record. Another instance where I wish I was on a record sooner. Just recently Pagan Flames Productions announced this was getting the vinyl treatment real soon so those of you who want a copy watch the label/band page for updates. And I suggest you support them. Or you can contact Concentric Drone Cult and see if they have any of the cd copies.