Blood of the Black Owl’s fourth full length album, Light the Fires! represents an inexorable flight into the arms of dark, heavy, animist perfection.
Blood of the Black Owl’s early albums were founded almost entirely in a blackened doom metal aesthetic, with crushing guitars and hair-raising vocals. Yet the project’s mastermind, Chet W. Scott, is also a supernaturally talented multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for experimental, ambient, and folk music.
Over time these influences have come to permeate Blood of the Black Owl. Album number three, A Banishing Ritual, was the heaviest yet, despite largely abandoning distorted guitars. Given the ever richer sonic palette that Chet has allowed himself, it should come as no surprise that Light the Fires! transcends genre boundaries to assume a state of pure art.
Light the Fires! makes relatively restrained use of distortion and other trappings of extreme metal, yet retains a palpable, lumbering, momentum. The heavy elements become more prominent as the recording progresses, yet at no point does the album feel contrived. It is Chet Scott’s intent that brings such crushing intensity, and that power dominates even in moments of tranquility.
The opening track, “Caller of Spirits,” seduces us into a whirling vortex of runic throat singing, eerie drones, and untamed spirit. The track deploys successive layering of horns, chants, rattles, and drums, and resonates with Chet’s unique Heathen-Native American fusion. It is at once placid, stately, untamed, and utterly compelling; a profoundly evocative entrance.
For me the second track, “Wind Eye,” stands out for its impeccable electric-folk composition and simply perfect bass playing. Clean electric guitars sing like voices, and a stunning acoustic guitar solo announces a surprisingly concise climax. The mood is dark, certainly, but somehow also resonates with joy.
“Rise & Shine” continues where “Wind Eye” leaves off, woven from clean electric guitars, beautiful bass playing, and Blood of the Black Owl’s trademark heavy-handed drumming. The pace it sets is slow and winding, but if there is weariness here, it is tempered by resolute strength. Spiraling counter-melodies conjure otherworldly nocturnal vistas: stars shining on still water.
Half way through the song the tone changes. Broken chords and a more forceful tempo speak to a different instinct, which in turn transmutes toward dark but hopeful invocations of healing. The music touches an innate animistic urge that all too often slumbers beneath the armor of technocracy or dogma…touches that urge, and nourishes it powerfully.
From the untamed joy of “Rise & Shine” we plunge into more vintage Blood of the Black Owl with “Sundrojan.” Down-tuned guitars, guttural vocals, and earth-spirit fury wrench us from our reverie. The piece conveys a grim determination, and the chorus is tempered by an invocation of new life. The song imparts some valuable dramatic tension to the album’s trajectory.
“Two Ravens at the Tree Line” returns to the clean guitars, prominent bass, and doomy drums, but retains the extreme vocals. The contrast of tranquil and aggressive textures works perfectly, evoking forests from some primeval time out of time. The final minutes of the song progress into an epic journey amid the ancient boughs, a movement that is felt deep in the bone.
The sound of running water introduces us to the second last track, “Soil Magicians.” Chet’s whispered calls to the magic of the stream send thrills down the spine. The song uses contrasting arrangements to conjure contradictory emotions from seemingly simple melodies. The poise and grace of this music is simply awe-inspiring.
As with every song on Light the Fires!, “Soil Magicians” resonates with gratitude to the natural world for its beauty and redemptive power, even as it hovers over the dissonance and fear that is also part of that natural order. The wild samples, the percussion, the vocals, all conspire to dissolve the listener into what could only be described as an embodied-out-of-body-experience.
As the track moves into distorted guitar territory, the vocals reach a pained tremor. Yet the earlier currents of grandeur remain, though transmuted into a far more grim countenance. It is an amazing trip.
Final track, “Disgust and the Horrible Realization of Apathy,” is a fittingly epic conclusion to the proceedings, binding dark horizons and crushing weight into a powerful whole. It gathers the whole album into a gloomy demise, and leaves the listener dazed, yet with an urgent desire to press “play” once more.
Light the Fires! represents a creative artist at his sublime best. Chet W. Scott has consistently outdone himself with each Blood of the Black Owl release, and there is simply nothing else out there that even approaches his unique and inspired vision. It is to be admired for its musical inventiveness, but also for the ultimately uplifting tone of its message and meaning.
01) Caller of Spirits
02) Wind Eye
03) Rise & Shine
05) Two Ravens at the Tree Line
06) Soil Magicians
07) Disgust & the Horrible Realization of Apathy