Whilst metal, as a genre, may largely be thought of in terms of aggression, volume, and speed (doom excepted), the genre also has vast scope for music that is atmospheric and captivating. This is, in itself, no great surprise (as the existence of atmospheric black metal proves, arguably the most popular black metal sub-genre of our times). Yet sometimes, an album can come along that blindsides you with just how masterfully it wields those aspects, conjuring up a dreamscape from a foundation of blasts and tremolo-picking riffs. The debut demo from Arête (who contain members of bands such as Twilight Fauna, Slaves BC, and Evergreen Refuge) impressed me just over two years ago, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting release of Hymnal, their first full-length. Adding traditional folk elements to the core atmospheric black metal sound, theirs is music of belonging; of searching for a place to call your own; ultimately, of home.
There are points points throughout Hymnal could the music be described as aggressive, brash, or overly hostile. Sure, there are moments of storm-conjuring fury, as on first track ‘Beneath the Pond’ and the opening movements of ‘Efidice’, with relentless drums, blizzard-like riffs and howls from beyond. But even then, the atmosphere is one of nature-inspired majesty and belonging, rather than a sense of beligerence – it is the bared teeth of nature’s predators rather than the jealous wrath of man that such moments conjure.
The dominant emotion conurjed by Hymnal, though, is something approaching calm. Key to Arête’s sound is the more spacious aspect of atmospheric black metal, to the extent that even the longest, most furious songs on the album have several moments that are drawn-out and undeniably beautiful. They bring about images of untouched Appalachia, all forest-covered mountains and untamed wildness. Even the more aggressive moments of Hymnal have something calming about them, with the melodies that run through the album offering some kind of balm for the soul. This is underlined by the acoustic interlude tracks, and mix of traditional folk and field recordings that open the album. That the album is named Hymnal is very telling – though it may not be religious music in any kind of commonly understood sense, there is the feeling throughout that Arête are, in some way, giving praise to something bigger than themselves (i.e., nature).
If that all sounds quite grand and pretentious – well, it isn’t. Hymnal is an album that conjures grand visions, and has vast depths of emotion and spirit, but it is quite humble about it. There is nothing pretentious about this album. Instead, it presents itself in such a manner that it’s hard not to be won over by its charms, to be drawn into its delightful atmospheres and stay there for hours at a time. It is music that is completely removed from the modern world, and all the better for it.
Hymnal is due for release on 16 November 2018. Pre-orders are due to begin on 1 November 2018. Follow The Fear and The Void Recordings on Bandcamp for more details.