REVIEWED: Cloak - ‘Black Flame Eternal’
From the bristling, densely contorted riffage of Dissection and Mayhem’s scabrous, signature groove through to the sleekly unravelling, black-hearted majesty of Watain, we’re all too well-acquainted with black metal’s most ghoulishly iconic trappings and traditions. Throw in a smattering of corpse paint, a goat skull or two and a few other suitably evil-looking accoutrements, and many a band circa 2023 can do a fairly competent job of imitating their influential predecessors. Indeed, within a sub-genre where compositional intrepidity is seldom rewarded and frequently demonised, it’s small wonder that works of true and authentic creativity are lamentably few and far between. Which is precisely why the fearlessly bold and grandiose likes of Cloak ignite in us a feeling akin to stumbling upon an unexpected gold rush in some otherwise wretchedly barren and desolate wasteland. That said, what we’re about to unravel here taps into altogether darker subterranean territories.
With a gloriously craggy yet sumptuously layered sound that’s paired with an album title that perfectly encapsulates its staggering, ornately orchestrated presence, every brimstone-scorched inch of ‘Black Flame Eternal’ is writ large with the unmistakable signs of a band hell-bent on greatness. Indeed, not since Watain’s 2010 masterwork ‘Lawless Darkness’ has a black metal collective burned so bright with brutally energised vigour and compositional ingenuity, its epic, underpinning narratives of deathly warfare, diabolical rites and spiritual enlightenment occupying a plane far removed from this weary mortal realm. And while those of a more sceptical disposition might be quick to dismiss such grandiose, intellectually elevated concepts as the stuff of cocky overconfidence or pretentious affectation, the sonically immense calibre of audio contained within conjures only too perfectly these agelessly epic and transporting energies.
Numbering one of the earliest offerings to have been aired ahead of the album’s official release date, the gloriously abrasive, riff-laden throes of ‘Invictus’ make for an exhilarating point of entry into this ferocious and sonically expansive long-player. Through innumerable strains of gnarly, frost-stricken tremolo, tautly muscled groove and dizzying crescendos of black ‘n’ roll riffery, this blistering standout decimates the senses into submission with audibly practised ease and efficiency. Yet, from suspenseful pockets of eerie, ambient soundscapes and ritualistic chants to sleekly elongated lines of sinewy, distortion-drenched fretwork, theirs is a sound as richly entrenched in atmosphere as it is audibly teeming with aggression.
Delving still deeper into these coldly entrancing atmospherics, the aptly-titled ‘Shadowlands’ positively luxuriates in darkness, its lush, elegantly unfurling guitars and symphonic flourishes amassing humongous scale and stature atop a teeming mass of tremolo-laden riffage. Through every turbulent blast and airily balletic flurry of strings, composition feels harmoniously assembled within a seamless mix that produces a multi-layered richness and enormity of sound. Spanning everything from brutally propulsive staccato blasts to ripping, stratospheric guitar leads and coldly meditative vibrations that palpably drip ink-black malevolence, this is a record furnished with more than its share of intriguing, gracefully manipulated transitions.
But, with its staggeringly majestic layer upon layer of scalpel-keen riffery and sumptuous orchestrations conjuring up limitless vistas of sweepingly expansive, diabolical beauty, title track ‘Black Flame Eternal’ finds these talented players at their most delectably dark and epic. And from luxuriantly entangled whorls of intricate, gossamer-fine fretwork to gargantuan blasts sizeable enough to level entire civilisations, this could well be one of the most compelling extreme metal albums we’ll hear all year.
'Black Flame Eternal' is out now via Season of Mist