Sometimes, an album will take time to grab you. Other times, you know that what you’re hearing is special right from the first spin. Unsettling Whispers by Portuguese black metal band Gaerea most certainly falls in to the later category; by the time second song ‘Absent’ is about half-way through, you’ll be feeling sure that this is one of the most notable black metal records to have been unleashed thus far this year. That’s a feeling that persists not just throughout the album, but over time. Blending melancholy, dark majesty, and a sense of devastating nihilism, Unsettling Whispers is an album that more than deserves your attention.
Sitting somewhere between Mgla and Deathspell Omega, with hints of modern USBM, Gaerea’s sound is very much that of modern black metal – yet this is no bad thing. There might be many bands taking influence from those two underground titans of our times, but I’m yet to encounter one who put their music together as Gaerea do, or evoke the same kind of feelings. The influence of Mgla is most clear in the guitar leads, which lend the songs emotional, melancholic edges, and a sense of human connection. These sit alongside shifting structures, that veer between punishing, relatively straight-forward movements reminiscent of hardcore-influenced USBM, and more discordant, void-gazing black metal that draws its DNA from Deathspell Omega and other similar French bands. It makes for an album that is restless, with Unsettling Whispers rarely settling in to one direction or form before shifting in tempo or emphasis. This makes for a musically thrilling adventure, that offers a real rush of energy or initial listens, and something far deeper and more rewarding as more time is spent with the album.
Despite these constant shifts and changes in direction, the atmosphere of Unsettling Whispers is surprisingly consistent. As the title hints, it’s an album shrouded in darkness, that often hints at things rather than shows them directly. For all that it possesses plenty of riffs of a direct nature, and a sense of driving urgency, there is something about Unsettling Whispers that can only be understood with time; a feeling of digging through hidden lore and forgotten secrets to find some fundamental truth, and a connection to the other that characterizes the best black metal, regardless of sub-genre.
And, after having spent time with the album, I feel confident in saying that Unsettling Whispers deserves to be talked about in such terms. The sense of conviction put across by Gaerea is incredible, as is the feeling of unrestrained darkness and nihilism. That it combines an immediate rush of excitement with longer lasting rewards is remarkable enough; but it’s the emotional, almost spiritual edge of the album that really helps set it apart from the competition, and on this basis it would be little surprise if the profile of the band were to become much bigger. On the basis of Unsettling Whispers they certainly deserve it, as this is black metal of the highest quality.