Michael Taylor stems from Victoria, the capital city of the Canadian province of British Columbia, and seems to spend a great deal of his time listening to and creating dark and sinister music. Apart from his solo black metal project Paths, whose album Beauty and Nihility we will discuss in detail here, he is also active with Teeth of the Wolf in which he expresses himself through the veil of dark ambient.
Since Canada is usually famous for Blasphemy and the French resistance that is Québécois black metal, it’s interesting to delve into the other extreme-metal factions that populate the less spotlighted corners of this huge country. Beauty and Nihility is the second album from Paths, who have been active since 2013 and have already put out a handful of demos, EPs, and one album. Beauty and Nihility has the advantage of cover artwork that instantly creates attention, since on one hand it looks much more like a Traditionalist Slavonic neofolk release and on the other uses a classic painting which expresses a great deal of misery, hopelessness, and melancholy. This is clearly always a good start for any kind of sinister art.
The piece in question—The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson by John Collier (1881)—is perhaps as perfect as it gets in order to visually define what lies within Beauty and Nihility. Not only is it geographically relevant, picturing explorer Henry Hudson and his son as they’ve been cast off under mutiny during a voyage to find the Northwest Passage within the Arctic Circle, but the desperation of being faced with a drawn-out, agonizing death sentence is reflected in the atmosphere that dominates the album.
One’s curiosity will only grow even stronger when they read the quote on the inside of the booklet:
“Alas, The Gates Of Life Never Swing Open Except Upon Death. Never Open Except Upon The Palaces And Gardens Of Death. And The Universe Appears To Me Like An Immense, Inexorable Torture Garden.” —Octave Mirbeau
Although this quote from The Torture Garden is a bit over-the-top and perhaps even bordering on cliché, it is curious that Octave Mirbeau, a French author and journalist from the late 19th century, is invoked to sum up the message of a black metal album. Mirbeau seems to have many proverbial faces; he is not only famous for his sinister words—as the ones mentioned above—but also for his anarchist, individualist, and humanitarian positions. Surely this is a fitting personality for a dark and brooding black metal album such as Beauty and Nihility.
If one focuses on the music behind Paths’s sophomore opus, one will recognise two very specific things. Firstly, Michael Taylor focuses on the typical hypnotic riffs and simple, drawn-out drum lines that have made the second wave of Norwegian black metal famous. The second Burzum album as well as some earlier releases by Hate Forest and Drudkh come to mind when listening to Beauty and Nihility. However, Taylor has yet to learn how to compose well-crafted riffs which remain interesting over the course of six-to-nine minutes. The song-writing talent of a Roman Saenko is not yet present, even though songs like ‘The Grandeur’ manage to include more epic and exciting moments.
Secondly, Paths have learned one important lesson from the bands of the second wave: hypnotic riffs, a raw production, and deep screams are not enough to fill an entire album. That’s why, for example, the song ‘Eyes Behind the Light’ begins with a space-ambient passage and slowly evolves into a modestly avant-garde metal song with unusual guitar work. Therefore, ‘Eyes Behind the Light’ is surely one of the highlights of Beauty and Nihility because Taylor manages to escape the limits of classic black metal compositions. Similar words can be lost concerning the last track, ‘Nihility’, in which one can not only hear an acoustic guitar (nicely staged), but the track also ends with a spoken-word passage, which grants the album an eerie ending.
Lyrically, Paths sincerely follows the trail that it has laid out for itself with the quote by Octave Mirbeau. Taylor focuses on phenomena like long-lost love, the general sadness and brutality of our earthly existence, and the ice-cold nature of his homeland. With such fitting topics for a black metal release, however, one would have hoped for some deeper insight. Still, some words are simply interesting because of their foreboding directness—for example, those for the song ‘Nihility’:
‘Another morning passes while I recover, parched with thirst and filled with liquid from the night before. The bulb flickers out and it gets darker.’
Beauty and Nihility is a worthwhile purchase for all fans of the peculiar strain of depressive and gloomy black metal which was once made famous by Varg Vikernes. Paths are not yet able to write stunning and enthralling songs, but Taylor shows clear artistic potential and, in the end, it is always good to support underground artists who try to create something unique on their own.
02) Cloudless Whispers
03) This Grandeur
04) Wake the Dawn
05) Eyes behind the Light
06) Teeth of the Wolf