As we lurch, weary and penniless, from the joyless January wasteland of the post-Christmas period into the fresh horrors of a new calendar month, there’s something especially ghastly about this time of year - not least with the mindless, hyper-commercialised advent of St. Valentine’s Day now fast on the approach. And yet, on this annual outpouring of gushing, diabetes-inducing sentiment also comes the arrival of something infinitely darker, enigmatic and original, elaborately etched in crimson shades of suffering and existential horror. Brought to you courtesy of black metal mavericks Blaze of Perdition, the genre-defying underground gem in question goes by the name of ‘The Harrowing of Hearts’.
“Black metal has been reimagined, re-influenced and reshaped countless times, and so many self-important people claim to have authority over the genre and how it should be expressed that I don’t think there’s any real pattern here or rules to obey anymore,” notes insightful frontman Pawel ‘Sonneillon’ Marzec on the wondrously fluid and adaptive medium of black metal music that, for more than a full decade now, has provided the perfect outlet for expressing the Polish four-piece’s darkest and most deeply introspective musings. Indeed, for all the simple-minded elitism still stubbornly attached to this most gloriously unhallowed of genres, it’s hard to imagine a variant of extreme music that lends itself so readily to lawlessly inventive self-expression. Inextricably bound up with a deeply contemplative array of mind-bending occult philosophies and traditions, such fierce individualism has long figured strongly in the forging of Blaze of Perdition’s vicious, ever-evolving craft.
Having initially begun life as a relatively typical second wave ensemble, the many hugely eventful years that followed would irrevocably alter the craggily frostbitten fabric of this rapidly evolving unit. From simple line-up refinements to the tragic bus accident that tragically claimed the life of bassist Wojciech ‘Ikaroz’ Janus and saw Sonnellion himself also fighting for his life for a time, it’s clear that every event and occurrence of the past thirteen years has played its part in evolving this now-tautly cohesive and compelling musical collective. And from desolate expanses of craggy, wickedly abrasive tremolo to eerily echoing passages of distortion that palpably ooze deathly atmospherics, there’s no mistaking the raw authenticity of feeling that fuels Blaze of Perdition’s savage and darkly absorbing craft. Following on from 2017’s flawlessly cohesive ‘Conscious Darkness’, anticipated follow-up ‘The Harrowing of Hearts’ is, for Sonneillon and co., the next logical, organically conceived point of progression on from this career-defining full-length.
“We have some sort of a rough concept and aims we follow,” the vocalist notes of the band’s keenly honed and instinctive songwriting prowess. “You know, whether songs should be longer or shorter, more trance-like or catchy etc., but it's never too rigid and we let the music and ideas develop naturally on the fly, we're often quite surprised what turns it takes along the road when everything falls into place. For example, the "schizophrenic" interlude part in ‘The Great Seducer’ is an effect of improvisation after my initial idea turned out to be not as good as I imagined.”
Striking a tautly engineered balance between ripping, brimestone-scorched aggression and meticulously arranged melodic detail, the deliciously hooky yet compositionally rich and intricate ‘Transmutation of Sins’ was, unsurprisingly, the first track to be publicly aired ahead of the album’s hotly anticipated release later this month. Yet, as Sonneillion hastens to add, both this and follow-up single ‘With Madman’s Faith’ barely begin to scratch the surface of this tremendously varied and expansive body of work. He explains, “First one is a typical single material, quite direct and catchy as well as the only one short enough to be included on single EP. It was our choice as we wanted to start promo with something surprising and different. ‘With Madman's Faith’ was the label's choice. I'd have picked up a different one, something more different from the first one and something that reflects the album's atmosphere a little better, but that's a matter of taste I guess.”
With this blistering and blackly absorbing body of work sourcing rich inspiration from an unflinchingly dark and thought-provoking central concept, ‘The Harrowing of Hearts’ comprises a wondrously blasphemous reversal of Christ’s infamous fabled journey through Hell. And rather than surrendering oneself to the unquestionable, elevated authority of some superior being or deity, these occult principles instead prompt the listener to turn inward on themselves and, through rigorously probing self-reflection, begin to explore the darkest, most unspeakable facets of their inner being. Richly represented in the exquisitely detailed, almost classically-inspired brushstrokes of supremely talented cover artist Izabela Grabda, this meticulously assembled blending of musical, visual and philosophical dynamics undoubtedly comprises the Polish quartet’s most strikingly accomplished record yet.
“We wanted something different for this one as we usually had drawings on our front covers,” explains Sonneillon of this pivotal and powerfully symbolic facet of ‘The Harrowing…’. “Izabela is a close friend of mine and we share a lot of common ideas and a certain taste, so - knowing of her talent - I asked her to try and paint something for us and guided her towards what we wanted to achieve here. It turned out just great and I love the eerie aura and its depth as well as the way she managed to visualise all the symbolism I wanted to be present there.”
With a new record poised for imminent release later this month, it’s clear that 2020 is already shaping up to be an exceptionally productive year for the ever-productive artist as he anticipates, “Hopefully more shows and basically everything that will help us grow and get better. Soon I will also be recording a debut album with my side project called Mānbryne, a more classic and traditional take on black metal that, in a way, continues chosen concepts we started years ago in other now-dead project Oremus.”
‘The Harrowing of Hearts’ is out 14th February 2020 on Metal Blade