Label: Lion’s Jawbone
Fittingly for an album with such a title, Mongrel’s Light – the debut album USBM trio Gilded Lily – is a vicious little beast, but not lacking in moments of (relative) beauty. It captures the duality at the heart of modern life, where the imposition of order and the muzzling of our animal spirit often serves to only make such violent, primitive impulses stronger. It is distinctly suburban, with a bleakness that is born of concrete and broken glass rather than tundras and trees. In some ways, it is a quintessential USBM album, twisting the core sound of the genre in ways that are all too human, speaking of a caged, desperate spirit that is fed by the emptiness of much of modern society. But rather than being “just another” USBM album, Mongrel’s Light has a very distinct character, and a very varied sound that elevates it above much of the competition.
The album throws you right in at the deep end with the intense opening to first track “Weakling Sun”, and there’s little let-up from there. The stellar production helps – rough and raw, but with just enough clarity to let the details come through, and it’s instantly noticeable just how pummeling the drums are. Each blast is like a hammer striking your chest, and combined with such very intense guitar work that switches between razor-sharp leads and whirlwind riffs in an instant, it makes for a head-spinning listen. This is, of course, a very good thing. It contributes greatly to the sense of danger the album projects, and Mongrel’s Light certainly does that most valued and rare of things – it makes black metal sound dangerous.
Thankfully, this is not the sort of album where the initial rush of excitement and adrenaline quickly wears off. There’s enough variety in the album for it to stay interesting, as evidenced as early on as second track “Bellflower”, the ending section of which, following a pause, moves in to blackened doom tempos before launching its assault once more. There are tracks where the speed of the band seems almost absurd, seeing them encroach upon blackened thrash or grindcore territory (as on “Yellow Dog’s Song”); “A Sparse Room” is built as much upon dark ambient and experimental sounds as black metal; and there are even moments of guitar heroics, as during penultimate track “Houndstooth”. And though it never goes in to full-on post-black metal territories, there are subtle hints of the influence of bands like Deafheaven, in the ways the guitars are unafraid to embrace melody even as they create an utter maelstrom. It may be built upon a solid core of vicious, bleak USBM, but Mongrel’s Light is a much more varied album than that descriptor suggests. It’s also an example of how to write black metal that pushes at the borders of what a genre is capable of without going completely in to avant-garde realms or writing twenty-minute long songs.
It’s this variety, combined with the atmosphere of the album, that makes Mongrel’s Light such a superb album. It is deeply evocative of the emptiness and restrained violence that modern life seems to be built upon, with its own kind of beauty, and an animal spirit is clear throughout. For a debut album, it is a hugely impressive effort, and deserves to be heard by a much wider audience than it probably will be. In the USBM hierarchy, Gilded Lily are definitely alphas.
Mongrel’s Light is available to stream and download via Bandcamp.