A descent into internal, infernal darkness.
Every so often, you encounter an album that clicks in an immediate way. Usually for me, the process of falling in love with a record requires a couple careful listens, a few catchy parts that remain with me after the listening, and an eagerness to revisit these specific songs until my love for the record blossoms out to encompass the entirety of the album instead of a few select songs. But every once in a blue moon, I stumble across a record that grabs me right out of the gate and promises to be one of my favorite releases of the year. This is one of those albums.
SCHAMMASCH has been on my radar for a couple years now, but they have grown on me immensely since first hearing their Hermaphrodite EP. There’s something genuinely unsettling about their music that demands attention and keeps me coming back for more. While the band has become firmly entrenched in the avant-garde black metal genre in the later stage of their career, their earlier output demonstrates a more blackened death metal approach, an influence that's still present on Hearts of No Light. Clocking in at just over an hour in length, it’s clear that SCHAMMASCH are not worried about the accessibility of their music. That said, this record really doesn’t have frills or filler. Despite the runtime of a lot of these tracks topping 6 minutes in length, everything feels necessary to the portrait that SCHAMMASCH is painting with their music. It is deeply unsettling yet engrossing. It is at once otherworldly and carnal.
Hearts of No Light begins with a stormy piano piece that resembles a Chopin composition more than it does the intro to a black metal record. But with the last ominous piano chord ringing out, the band dives into the musical style that will be instantly recognizable to long-time fans of the band. There’s some impressive fretwork over a sparse and highly repetitive melody that’s clearly meant to instill a sense of anticipation - and perhaps even an underlying element of dread. This bombastic atmosphere and dynamic mastery persists throughout the entire record.
The first proper song on the record, Ego Sum Omega, is a fairly straightforward black metal track that still manages to add some unique elements into the mix. Specifically, the vocals are low and monotonous rather than shrill and croaked as black metal orthodoxy would typically demand. Additionally, about halfway through the eight minute track, SCHAMMASCH includes a section that’s almost post-rock in its sensibilities, before catapulting into one of the best riffs on the record - and indeed, one of the best riffs I’ve heard this year - around the four minute, 15 second mark. This is the kind of sublime and transportive black metal that keeps me positively obsessed with the genre even into what many would call my “late twenties.”
There’s a sense of scale and loftiness cultivated on this entire record that I think is similar to bands like NECROPHOBIC and ASCENSION (incidentally one of my favorite bands ever, and a likeness that the band themselves have acknowledged). SCHAMMASCH manage to meld a wide variety of styles into one unique and cohesive whole. Truly, this is the perfect blend of progressiveness and “fundamentals” - a meticulously navigated balancing act between avant-garde metal and black metal. SCHAMMASCH is completely unafraid to incorporate divergent elements into their music; in fact, they seem eager to do so.
The piano makes a reappearance on the third track, A Bridge Ablaze, this time accompanied by an electronic beat meandering beneath it - yet another clear expression of SCHAMMASCH's willingness to experiment. This track serves as an interlude likely meant to heighten the atmosphere and suggestively indicate the gathering storm that eventually culminates with the track Qadmon’s Heir, another black metal track that features a clean-sung quasi-chorus (say that five times fast). The following track, Rays Like Razors, was released with an accompanying promo video which really captures the entire mood of this record in a succinct and absolutely captivating way. The occult feel on this track genuinely gave me chills when I first listened to it.
Now, I do have qualms with Hearts of No Light. Most notably, I think that A Paradigm of Beauty really disrupts the flow of the record. I’m sure I’m in the minority here, because objectively there’s nothing wrong with the track, especially if you’re someone with alt-rock sensibilities. But for me, it misses the mark and takes me out of the otherwise diligently maintained atmosphere present on the rest of the record. I try hard not to be one of “those guys” who automatically write off clean singing in extreme metal, but it just… doesn’t work for me on this track (even though it did work for me a mere two tracks earlier, c’est la vie). I hope it’s clear that this doesn’t really do all that much to diminish my overall appreciation for the album, and even within the song itself there are redeeming factors, but I’d be remiss not to mention that this track made me do a double take on my first (and second, and third) listen.
I’m usually not a fan of the whole track-by-track analysis approach, as I believe it’s better to just experience an entire album on your own instead of reading about it secondhand. However, I felt it would be useful to highlight SCHAMMASCH's disparate influences and mastery of a variety of styles in order to bring attention to the fact that old school purists may not love this album. But for those with an especially adventurous nature, Hearts of No Light is a veritable treasure trove of interesting sounds and unique production choices. All of that said, I’m going to leave off and just talk about my general impressions for the rest of the album.
After spending time with the lyrics, and having listened to a number of previous SCHAMMASCH releases, it appears that the band gravitate towards incredibly complex and abstract concepts including philosophical dialogues, mysticism, and reality itself, using the philosophy of Luciferianism as a unifying concept and lens to explore the other subjects. Just as the range of topics dealt with differs a great deal, so does the breadth of emotions this album covers. The second half of I Burn Within You is surprisingly emotive and almost melancholy, whereas other sections of this record are defiant, prideful and almost triumphant in a way that I’d expect from more overtly “religious” bands such as WATAIN. Hearts of No Light is a beast of an album. It’s the sort of record you need to sit with, paying careful attention to all of the nuances and artistry that the band has clearly poured into every single track.
FFO: Secrets of the Moon, Ascension, Blut Aus Nord
Hearts of No Light is out on November 9th via Prosthetic Records. Get yours HERE.