Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sylvan Realm - The Lodge of Transcendence (2011)

Recent years have seen a surge of US acts pursuing a diversified, broad spectrum of melodic black and death metal which in the 90s we would generally have associated foremost out of Europe. Joining groups like Obsequiae, Cormorant and Shroud of Despondency in this pursuit, we now have Sylvan Realm, a former one man show (as Reverie) which has transformed into a full trio, with an auspicious debut that promises emotional highs and lows, ample riffing variation and the requisite contrasts of folksy acoustic guitar elements, rasped vocals and writhing, persistent melodies that are hit or miss throughout over 40 minutes and five tracks of dynamic length.

I was a little back and forth with this album, loving some sequences and indifferent to others, but in general The Lodge of Transcendence is a competent, confident piece with much to recommend, even if there are a few rougher corners to work around. The first track, the trio's namesake "Sylvan Realm" comes out firing with an intense flux of swaggering guitars, double bass bombast, but then it bursts into this amazingly atmospheric break over which Sylvan shouts with an almost hardcore-sounding angst that really felt distinct and unusual. Honest, upon hearing this I had rather high hopes for a lot more of this, but while the cleaner vocals are indeed present elsewhere on the record, they're not paired up with such a memorable backdrop, and I just don't find the usual mix of grunts and snarls to be all that distinguished or interesting, nor a vast swath of the riffing, which seems to dwell upon the usual Scandinavian patterns so many Swedish and Finnish hybrids once manifest.

That said, they manage to evince some snappy dynamics here that lead into these straight metal grooves that rock straight out and resurrect the listener's fleeting attention, and they rarely dwell on any one riffing pattern for so long that its blades fully dull. This is especially important as there are some rather fattened tracks here at 8-10 minutes which would be murdered by a blander, more repetitive composition. One of these, "Twilight Kingdom" is an extensive acoustic over which you'll get some, meandering poetry in a deep clean tone, and I admit it lost me over a few minutes, but tunes like the titular "Lodge...", with its mournful and memorable opening passage, and "Temple of Not", which balances periods of psychedelic calm and accelerated tremolo black metal with a Viking feel, were well enough written to hold the attention throughout. Often the extensive duration of the songs, and the constantly swaying melodies will recall a more aggressive shadow of the older, enjoyable Opeth records (minus the difference in vocals).

I also dug the poetic, introspective, and cosmic bent to the lyrics here which is so often a boon for this sort of ambitious balance of extremes. Sure, there are quite a few cliches in there about walking through the woods, falling leaves, etc, but what would you expect? The Lodge of Transcendence is wide music suited to wide spaces, often shouting down the mountain towards you or bubbling up from the nearest brook. There's this naturalistic feel to the whole package which I feel fans of the rustic North American acts Agalloch, Woods of Ypres and Wolves of the Throne Room would enjoy, but at the same time there's nothing as minimalistic here as you might here in a number of the 'Cascadian' black metal groups. Definitely a decent debut, I didn't love the thing but it was able to loop my interest back around at several points where I thought it had run off course.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

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