Sojourner - Empires of Ash
Avantgarde Music
Atmospheric Black Metal
7 songs (57' 56")
Release year: 2016
Avantgarde Music
Reviewed by Andy
Surprise of the month

So much atmospheric folk black metal is floating out there in the wild that it's easy to overlook the really good newcomers -- but not this one, for Sojourner's debut, Empires of Ash stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries in terms of its epic, vaguely Celtic-sounding composition. A long-distance collaboration between members located in New Zealand, Sweden, and Scotland, the result has the measured grandeur of Saor, but a much heavier, black-metal-oriented attack that goes a long way towards making this the amazing landscape that it becomes to the listener.

Bound by Blood, even with its steady mid-tempo beat and lead harmonies, still focuses more on being a lavish horn-and-tin-whistle folk soundtrack than anything else. But the band is just warming up with that track; Heritage of the Natural Realm, their single prior to this album's release, follows as a nine-minute epic, laden with tremolo picking, blastbeats, and all. The production on the metal portions imparts a huge echo to everything that calls to mind Summoning's classic sound, especially when the guitars kick in with an arpeggiated melody, a behemoth that piles on even more layers and gets even more crushing following each (briefly) quiet portion of the melody. The singing mostly consists of black-metal shrieks courtesy of Emilio Crespo, though guitarist/whistle player Chloe Bray does clean vocals in a number of places, and on the entirety of the much quieter The Pale Host, which is structured as a sort of ballad.

Homeward is another standout -- a buzzing lead starting off furious blastbeats that are overshadowed by a slow-tempo melody, with Crespo's voice sinking to a hoarse whisper offset by Bray's sweet-toned chorus work. The songs are almost all long, but not a moment is wasted; the melodies stretch out through the songs in ornate detail, supported by the fantastic layering job. This combines with songwriting that smoothly escorts a listener from chugging power chords, to calm piano chill-outs, to furious riffing just as recovery sets in. And "smooth" is the name of the game -- the guitars on the title track have all the edges sanded off, and instead of making things sound too slick, it helps to mortar together the separate instruments into a single force.

Coming out of nowhere, and from such a split-up, international group, Empires of Ash is a pleasant surprise that easily gives established atmospheric nature-metal acts such as Fen or Saor a run for their money; this is definitely one to check out.

Bandcamp: http://sojournermetal.bandcamp.com/album/empires-of-ash.

Killing Songs :
Heritage of the Natural Realm, Homeward
Andy quoted 87 / 100
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