BLAZE OF PERDITION — Conscious Darkness (review)

BLAZE OF PERDITION — Conscious Darkness album cover Album · 2017 · Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
2.5/5 ·
Here's a story about me, your humble reviewer: black metal is my favourite genre of metal music. That means that more than any other genre I spend a lot of time checking out black metal acts, both old and new, to the point where buying used job lots of black metal albums on ebay is a thing that's happened several times now, all of them more or less blind. It's through this habit that I've greatly expanded my experience of the genre. I now believe I can safely say that I've heard most if not all facets of this diverse musical style, everything from the traditional to the melodic, atmospheric to the depressive, symphonic to the pagan and even a bit of the obscure war metal style and stuff that is so avant-garde that is sounds mentally unhinged.

This is not a boast, but the build up to this following statement: through listening to so much black metal music I've discovered it to be the genre of metal that, in my experience at least, is continually showing the most innovation, certainly more than most so called progressive metal bands do, which played a big part in it becoming my favourite. This year (2017) alone has served up the likes of oltreLuna by Progenie Terrestre Pura, which packs all kinds of unusual elements into it, from tribal beats to even dupstep. Then there is Futility Report by White Ward, which melds the blackgaze sub-genre with saxophone led jazz sounds. This is not to mention Ebne Graun by Todesstoß, an exceptionally creepy release that effectively melds depressive black metal, funeral doom metal and dungeon synth into a single 46:23 long song. So when Conscious Darkness, the fourth full-length by Polish black metal act Blaze of Perdition comes along and immediately makes a similar splash in the black metal waters to the above albums it should go without saying that my interest would be piqued and I'd make it a priority to check the release out to see what the fuss is about.

The fairy tale ending to this story would be that Conscious Darkness turned out to be just as much of, if not an even more creative release as those examples I highlighted in the previous paragraph. But this is where we've hit a major plot twist in our tale. In a year with both highly innovative albums such as those listed above and also exceptionally strong if less 'out there' ones like Wode's Servants of the Countercosmos and Fen's Winter, titles it's also mentioned in the same breath as, Conscious Darkness surprises by its sheer mediocrity. Maybe it has simply fallen victim to its own hype train; the phenomenon where an album is talked about by so many or is simply gushed over so much by a more niche audience that by the time you, who are a little late to the party, get to hear it, you subconsciously go into it with high and potentially unrealistic expectations that even the average 'very good' album isn't going to meet.

I have to say I do think that's what has happen here with Blaze of Perdition's Conscious Darkness, since I certainly don't mean to imply that I hear this as a terrible record. Not by any means. It even has some great moments, but they're counterbalanced by equally poor ones. Overall it's more like a listenable record that despite being able to hold my attention ultimately underwhelms by the time I've got through the four track, 43:03 long duration. For a while I couldn't put my finger on why that could be, because listening to it I couldn't honestly say I was hearing the kind of by the numbers generic black metal release that are all too common these days. The band's music though instantly recognisable as black metal doesn't have a typical sound. Their instrumentation sounds more, for want of a better description, chaotic, sometimes to the point of dissonance. It also seems apparent that the guys in the band were influenced by more than a single avenue of music when writing it and it's not hard to imagine that they've put a lot of thought into creating this release. So what exactly is the problem?

After a few listens waiting to see if the album would open up as familiarity set in (which it did to a point), it finally hit me. For all intents and purposes Conscious Darkness actually was a fairly typical black metal record, more so after you've scratched the surface of it. While this isn't a barrier to enjoyment – I noted a couple of fairly typical albums for their styles earlier on in this review that I have personally given high scores this year – there's an inescapable feeling when listening to this one that somewhere in the gears of this well oiled machine someone has left a wrench.

This is less evident in the opening track A Glimpse of God, which I'd say is the best on offer, but it certainly becomes apparent during the next one, Ashes Remain, which is the album's longest song. For a time it serves up much the same as the previous – nothing unusual for a black metal release there – but then the band dial back the metallic parts and throw in an extended softer section – again, nothing unusual for a black metal release there – but this is where that pesky wrench near grinds everything to a halt: this section is really not very good at all and serves to really highlight the problems with the rest of the release. Though softer and more atmospheric, things are still incredibly muddy during this section, not really allowing much detail to stand out. It's easy to backtrack then and realise that the album was much the same before this part kicked in. The real kicker during this soft section though are the vocals. Switched from the usual growl to a clean voice, they're delivered in little more than a drawling spoken word.

Even with this realisation Conscious Darkness does, overall, still manage to be a listenable black metal release. But it never transcends beyond that, it's most memorable parts being memorable for all the wrong reasons. Additionally with the longest two tracks lined up first over half if it is done and dusted by the time you've got through that non-metal section and to say that the album is derailed by that point is an understatement. The next two tracks Weight of the Shadow and Detachment Brings Serenity are better, but even though both are still pretty long it's just not enough time and material for the release to recover much in my regards. Ultimately what's left is an album that is neither worthless nor worthwhile, just something that exists slap-bang in the middle of the road, adrift within the seas of the mundane.
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