Before we go far in to this review of Arkheth‘s third album, take a moment to look at that cover. Needless to say, it’s not what you expect from a black metal record – bright, garish colours; psychedelic landscapes; and a sense of conventions being not so much cast down, as utterly ignored in favor of doing whatever the fuck you want. It’s also a good summary of the sounds contained within 12 Winter Moons Comes The Witches Brew. Though the album is undeniably black metal, it takes almost everything you know about the genre and flips it on its head. This is black metal as defined by Sigh and psychedelics, rather than Mayhem and misery. It’s a bit of a headfuck, and a definite artistic triumph.
One of the biggest things to note about 12 Winter Moons… is that, if you can’t stand saxophones, then you’re going to have a bad time with this album. Though not the most prominent instrument in Arkheth’s arsenal, the use of saxophone melodies and solos is something that can’t be ignored. It lends the album a distinctive sound, and an extra, unexpected element, especially during the more laid-back sections when it almost creates a jazzy, lounge atmosphere; but it’s not the case that 12 Winter Moons… is, to any extent, reliant on the instrument in order to stand out. Even were it to be stripped of its brass, this is an album that would still be distinctive.
This is down to Arkheth’s song-writing. These five tracks don’t follow any standard structures, but instead will go where they will, as if possessed of a demonic, questing spirit that cannot be contained. The lack of repetition in such long songs (the shortest, ‘The Foll Who Persists In His Folly’, is six minutes long; the longest, ‘Dark Energy Equilibrium’, is eleven) is notable; as if the hypnotic, claustrophobic effect when the songs do decide to make use of repetition, which creates the impression of bring trapped in some drug-addled psychic prison, where your sense of direction has turned traitor.
As this might imply, 12 Winter Moons can be quite a difficult album to get a handle on; but despite this, it’s still restlessly thrilling. The sense of falling down the rabbit hole and arriving in unknown lands is one of the album’s strongest points on early listens, with the sheer joy of hearing something so unconcerned with convention being hard to deny. Then, as more time is spent with the album, a kind of narrative structure begins to assert itself, as what was once unfamiliar and strange starts to become more recognisable (though still undeniably strange). The initial thrills are reward enough, but patience and persist also bring about something new in the album.
12 Winter Moons is very much an album for those who recognise the potential in black metal to challenge boundaries, and to be twisted in to new, uncomfortable sounds. Though multiple comparisons can be made and feel valid – including Sigh, Oranssi Panzuzu, and Arcturus – at no point does the album really sound like anyone else. Likewise, though black metal feels like the most apt genre-descriptor for the album, it falls laughably short of describing what the album actually sounds like and sets out to achieve – this truly is an album that doesn’t just toy with the concept of genre, but makes it feel laughable.
All of which makes 12 Winter Moons… the kind of album that the underground should, but probably won’t, take to its heart. The challenging spirit of the album is impossible to deny, as is its quality, and even after a dozen listens I’m still finding new textures and sounds to explore. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like your black metal to be a little bit strange, then 12 Winter Moons… may be what you’ve been looking for.
12 Winter Moons Comes The Witches Brew is available digitally and on CD via Bandcamp.