Black metal and progressive rock have remained uncomfortable bedfellows ever since the former rolled over to let foreign musical entities snuggle up. Though disparate in almost every way, both genres cling to oppositional musical ideologies: the strict adherence to unwavering misanthropy and aggression which defines traditional black metal is the yin to progressive rock’s rampantly experimental yang. As such, there is a joy endemic to the latter’s musical exploration which extreme metal often lacks by virtue of its inherent aggression. Slovakia’s Remmirath, in contrast to the nebulous negativity which pervades progressive black metal, instead embark upon a sonic adventure on Shambhala Vril Saucers filled with musical diversions and deviations.
Although foundationally a black metal record, there is a melodious quality to Shambhala… wherein lush keyboard harmonies trade leads with galloping dual-guitar riffs that are reminiscent of Swedish melo-death’s more tuneful output. Vocalist As barks in croaky Mgla-esque fashion and drummer Zrzo blasts plenty of beats, but black metal hallmarks are rather scant on Shambhala…; whereas many experimental or avant-garde extreme metal bands use their respective genres as musical springboards towards progression, maintaining the key characteristics, Remmirath instead drink from the black metal chalice only when necessary.
Remmirath’s modest adherence to extreme metal orthodoxy allows their experimentation to shine without trawling the murky depths of the wholly avant-garde. Rejecting the soulless technicality which plagues modern progressive metal yet also avoiding the kitchen-sink approach of Sigh and their ilk, Shambhala… places particular onus on melody and tunefulness. Songs like ‘The Gunfighter’s Quest for Enlightenment” embody this preoccupation, moving as it does from a bass-driven folk jam to unparalleled Black Sabbath worship by way of blastbeats and galloping NWOBHM-inspired riffage.
A technological theme courses through Shambhala Vril Saucers, with programmed beats, industrial blips, and even 8-bit video-game samples worming their way in. The cover art—Milarepa, the One Who Harkened by Nicholas Roerich—by contrast, points towards a loftier, more ethereal and spiritual direction, its soft pastels painting a Himalayan landscape which would not look amiss adorning a ’70’s progressive rock album. Compounded by some wonderfully psychotic lyrics (“Let my grave stare / into the bourbon horizon,” “Vigilant, insomniac rationality / endgendering descartean godzillas,” “Secrets sleep in lonely cafés / and Dale Mulder knows that Bob haunts here since Roswell”), Remmirath call to mind the more abstract purveyors of vintage progressive rock, avoiding a descent into the full-tilt wackiness of Gong et al.
Each musician is credited with supplying some form of percussion or instrument considered unusual within heavy music, resulting in a rich diversity of objects bashed and rattled. Sounds varying from the tingsha to the thunderbox lend the record an Eastern flair, embodied in the aforementioned album art and the guttural throat singing which kicks off the title track, itself clearly influenced by the Tibetan style. As’s baritone returns on “Fox Cooper,” following a sampled line of dialogue amid stereotypical spacey bleeps and bloops; without quite achieving the menace of, say, Attila Csihar, his croon adds a narrative dimension to the otherwise baffling lyrics.
Another (albeit far longer) vocal sample appears in the underwhelming closing track, “The Coming of Kalki”: a six-minute slice of ambience which simply cannot justify its length. Though featuring an interesting hodgepodge of percussive sounds, the looping Latin verse wears out its welcome and grows stale rather quickly. It’s as if Remmirath ran out of ideas but remained determined to cross the forty-minute threshold, slowly grinding to an underwhelming halt rather than ending with anything resembling a creative ‘bang’.
This rather plodding finale aside, Shambhala Vril Saucers is an otherwise exciting, daring album overflowing with nuance and ambition. Take your place aboard the good ship Remmirat and enjoy the astral journey.
01) Tiger of the City
02) Shambhala Vril Saucers
03) The Gunfighter’s Quest for Enlightenment
04) Fox Cooper
05) Iram of the Pillars
06) The Coming of Kalki
Written by: Simon Mernagh
Todestrieb Records (United Kingdom) / TTR059 / Digipak CD
Kristallblut Records (Germany) / KBR016 / Digipak CD
Hexencave Productions (Slovakia) / hexTK-12 / Tape
Independent (Slovakia) / None / 12″ LP, Digital
Avant-garde Black Metal