There have been times I’ve been asked by people with less vitriolic musical taste than my own how I could enjoy listening to such nihilistic music. I’ve found that there’s never any getting through to people who demand art to have a purely positive, life-affirming intention, but I would argue that most music of a dark character is intended to create a catharsis in the listener; an exhilarating release of bad emotions; a spiritual exorcism, so to speak, leaving the listener clear-headed and ultimately happier at the end of it.
None of that applies to Lurker of Chalice.
Lurker of Chalice is one of the few depressive black metal bands that truly lives up to its title. True to what American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman said, ‘…there is no catharsis’. There is no greater understanding, nor any release from suffering. It is certainly extreme, but not in the usual sense we think of with regards to metal. Wrest‘s flagship work with Leviathan always teetered on the edge of complete despair. Lurker of Chalice gives into it. He took the most atmospheric and experimental elements of Leviathan and fleshed them out, making quite possibly one of the most frightening albums I have ever heard.
In my own experience with depression, I’ve never thought of the truly bad feelings as necessarily being exciting or volatile, not like the way a lot of people would think of it. It’s usually quite the opposite; a steady descent into complete apathy and an uncomfortable state of unfeeling. It is quiet more often than loud. An outburst might even seem nice under those conditions, because it would mean you were feeling something and able to navigate it instead of being utterly helpless. I think it’s akin to being trapped in a black ocean and slowly sinking, even if you try to swim upwards. That’s always been the way I’ve pictured depression, and it might go to show why I have approached Lurker of Chalice’s one and only masterwork as being notably aquatic in its atmosphere. Wrest conjures a wide variety of dynamics here, from dissonant black metal to funeral doom, dark ambient, and ‘soft’ noise. Even so, it never feels like the music rises beyond itself in the usual cathartic way. Even the most intense and energetic parts of Lurker of Chalice (which may seem somnolent by other albums’ standards) just feels like a renewal of the same draining atmosphere.
I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve heard from Leviathan, but my favourite passages were always when Wrest would get abstract or devolve into ambient with his despondence. If you’ve heard a full album from Leviathan before and haven’t yet delved into Lurker of Chalice, you should already have some idea what this self-titled album sounds like based on Leviathan at Wrest’s most off-kilter and jarring. Calling Lurker of Chalice ‘black metal’ in the traditional sense isn’t an accurate statement. The music here finds the most miserable threads from black, doom, and ambient music, fusing them together into a style I think Wrest can confidently call his own. The guitars are heavy and vast, but seemingly anesthetized, as if all of the most outward emotions have been completely filtered out of the mix. As a vocalist, Wrest has capitalized on the most garbled and inhuman end of his range, making the studio as much a part of the vocals as his real performance. There are moments present here where you can actually make out lyrics. Not that lyrics would be necessary to understand what the music is about. The plodding pace and empty vastness say enough as it is.
Lurker of Chalice is up there with the best ‘dark ambient’ music that this writer can think of, though understandably through a more introspective lens; I could sit down and listen to it intently and find myself hearing passages that weren’t noticeable during the previous spin. On the other hand, it could just as easily be left on in the background, and no matter how inattentive I was, the feelings of misery and self-obliteration would slink their way into my consciousness.
I am pretty disappointed that Wrest never chose to take Lurker of Chalice any further than this. Leviathan has released some brilliant music before and after this album, but this is still quite likely the best thing he has ever done. It is pure misery; those looking for an escape from the strains and heartbreaks of life will find no refuge here.
Recently, the Russian Kunsthauch imprint was able to obtain licensing to reissue this incredible album in very short supply (a limitation of a mere 100 copies) as a special edition wax-sealed digipak CD with an A3-sized poster. If you’ve been wanting to obtain a special version of this release, this is your chance.
02) Piercing Where They Might
03) Spectre as Valkerie Is
06) This Blood Falls as Mortal (Part III)
07) The Glory Experiment
09) Vortex Chalice
10) Fastened to the Five Points
Written by: Conor Fynes
(2015 Reissue) Kunsthauch (Russia) / Kunst040 / CD Special Edition
Southern Lord (United States) / SUNN45.5 / 12″ LP, CD
Total Holocaust Records (Sweden) / THR-87 / CD
Ambient Black Metal / Atmospheric