It's amazing just how in tune some artists can be with converting their musical vision into the atmosphere of their album packaging. When listening through Death Coven, the debut album from Australia's Atra, I can easily imagine an eerie nightscape of falling snow over archaic, grim structures such as the one adorning the cover; wendigos seeking the blood of their victims to leech their strength (like the thing above the logo). This is slow, drifty, beautiful black metal which never forgets its ominous origins, and should leave a chill mark on the soul of anyone experiencing it, even if the dire components do not exactly reek of originality.
No, not unique, but that damp, wintry smell emanating from Death Coven is one of rapture, of immersion. That it exudes from Blackheart, one piece of the prolific puzzle that is Australia's Drowning the Light, should not be too much of a surprise, because there is a similar, undead aesthetic to several of their releases. Only here, I feel there is more of a focus on this one, surreal and frostbitten night, succumbing the listener to the gathering drifts of snow and the unmistakable taint of evil. Blackheart covers all the instruments here, in a simple but cohesive fashion, a heightened sense of melody erupting through the caustic fuzz of the rhythm guitars in "Moonless Night" and "Seven Plagues by Seven Centuries". Atra travels at whatever pace it wishes, blasting through the din of spiritual exposure with ease, covering all poles except the technical, which would really be unnecessary and ineffective here. Other standouts include the harrowing "Empire of Melancholy" and the dirge of "Bloodred Horizons of Eternity", but not a single track broke character.
Death Coven is most going to appeal to those who ruminate about the elder days, when albums of the early Darkthrone and Burzum catalogs were able to leave massive impressions through their emotionally draining execution, rather than busy riffs or larger budget productions. The vocals here are more of Varg than Fenriz/Culto, but the riffs are fairly evenly distributed across these and many other influences. The notation is not always astounding or unpredictable, but it weaves a strong enough hypnosis that you'll survive for 38 minutes without tiring. We've been down such paths before, but Blackheart knows how to place a set of bloodied, inhuman tracks upon them, real fear creeping unto their beholders. If you're obsessed with that outdoor scene from The Shining, Jack Nicholson stalking through the wintry shrub maze, and want to live in it, then I think you'll find a lot to like about this album. I know I did.
Verdict: Win [8/10] (no sorrow nor pity is felt for your existence)