In The Decline of the West, historian and polymath Oswald Spengler embarked on a sweeping tour of history, providing some disputable facts alongside a myriad of valuable insights. One such insight, inspired by his two influences Nietzsche and Goethe, was the tying of art to a culture’s metaphysics, and how attempts to escape it never truly succeed. His favorite example of this was the Renaissance, which tried to emulate the Classical despite being tied inextricably to the “Faustian” culture of the West. Blaze of Perdition is a Polish band, and Poland is a largely Catholic country. Conscious Darkness, their follow-up to the solid Near Death Revelations, is a black metal record, which in the vast majority of cases entails irreligious or fervently anti-religious content. The more I listen, though, the more I feel Spengler’s insights apply.
The general ethos of Blaze of Perdition has remained largely unchanged since Near Death Revelations. The Greek influence of Acherontas and Devathorn, along with the Swedish influence of Naglfar and Dissection, combine with that peculiarly Polish sound that animates bands such as Behemoth as well. This is black metal fused with death metal, but not blackened death; the Polish, along with the Germans, are particularly good at this (for the latter, see Ascension and Thornesbreed). The Norwegian trebly tremolo is replaced with death metal’s heft, the more straightforward melodies of Dissection are rendered more melancholy, and the Greek riffing style, with more chugging and churning than the Norwegian second wave, is made morose.
The latent Catholicism comes through in the exhausted Faustian nature of “Ashes Remain,” striving towards the infinite, but instead of finding God, finding nothing. The whole track is brilliantly and unapologetically bleak, climaxing in an extended version of its cathartic yet still hopeless chorus. The rest of the track revolves around the chorus’ motif, transitioning from the enraged howling of its “verses” and the more contemplative despair of the almost proggy midsection. “Detachment Brings Serenity” is the highlight of the four songs here, taking minor influence from the post-black scene to paint a picture of a sickly sort of serenity. It’s a serenity underwritten by resignation, and the less melancholy moments are quickly swallowed by aggressively bleak riffing. Nonetheless, one recalls Faust’s initial wish that led him to his deal with Mephistopheles: nothing in his studies made him happy, so he wanted the Devil’s magic powers. This song climaxes with the narrator being a catalyst of darkness – “I shall embrace the sun today, and steal the light away” – and proceeds down a haunting yet beautiful melodic path before concluding on some almost liturgical clean vocals (note the latent Catholicism again), concluding with him finding “peace of mind” in the darkness. Instead of paradise, we’re right back where we started: the dark.
There’s not much wrong with Conscious Darkness, although “Weight of the Shadow” errs a bit too close to the Watain and Ascension mold for its own good and comes across a bit wanting in comparison to the other tracks here. The eerie dissonance of its chorus is quite good though and makes for a rather distinct sound. It’s a fine black metal song, don’t get me wrong, but Blaze of Perdition have simply done far more interesting things on this very record. “A Glimpse of God” fares better, with a bizarrely catchy chorus melody being notable. While it doesn’t use its time quite as effectively as the two songs mentioned in the previous paragraph, the finale is striking and showcases some great interplay between all instruments, with a special nod to the drums. It too has that exhausted Faustian atmosphere, and that works very much in its favor.
Blaze of Perdition has released an ambitious record in Conscious Darkness, and their efforts have paid off and benefited us, the people who like to listen to black metal. It’s produced comparably to Near Death Revelations, which means that everything is clear, but the kick drum is a touch weak. This is a minor complaint, as it doesn’t detract from the music whatsoever and the production allows the full extent of instrumental interplay to be heard, while not sounding pristine or plastic. This is clearly meant to be taken as a full record, and to listen to just one song is to do it and yourself a disservice; “A Glimpse of God” opens the record with a sample declaring that God is to be found only in suffering, and through suffering, represented by melancholic music, musically our narrator finds not God but a darkness that he ultimately embraces. Compelling and almost tragic, the flat rejection of Catholicism shows the Polish nature of the band; the Faustian striving is there, but the object of that striving is removed. What are we left with, but the dark?