Wildernessking - Mystical FutureSouth Africa’s Wildernessking is an atmospheric black metal band that has undergone a maturation before our very eyes. Starting as Heathens the band played an immediate (and still excellent) form of black n’ roll. The early material was reminiscent of Enslaved, but lacked the Norwegians’ progressive punch. The writing was concise and riffy, and the word “atmospheric” would never have crossed my keyboard in those days—until the release of the track “Morning” in 2011. In 2012, under the new moniker Wildernessking, these South African ex-heathens released The Writing of Gods in the Sand, which unfurled their sound into more expansive territory. The record had a production that helped the band’s music to balance between a raw, heavy black metal feel and their growing interest for more airy writing. 2016’s Mystical Future progresses Wildernessking‘s journey, taking steps further away from the intensity and riff-driven black metal of their youth, for a more thoughtful, ponderous sound.

Mystical Future shows that there is very little of Heathens left in these black metallers. While The Writing of Gods in the Sand was still quite aggressive at times, Mystical Future is written like a slow burn. A lot of this has to do with how the album is produced; a wet production that sounds like the band was recorded live using four standing mics in a cathedral. The sound is cavernous—Jason Jardim’s drums being the most obviously demonstrative of this—but as with all mixes this wet, the attack of the drums and guitars slow down. This means that even when the band reaches peak, the sound is never quite the raw, aggressive sound of more vicious black metal. Even Keenan’s vocals are mixed extremely far back, sounding almost as though he was rasping his lyrics without a microphone—the sound saved only by the overheads.

This cavernous sound lends to a stormy feel when the band does pick up speed, however. Rather than bruising intensity, the heavy material crashes over the listener like waves. Wildernessking deftly builds songs which reach epic, heart-wrenching crescendos—recalling Anathema‘s later material. Closer “If You Leave,” which features soft female vocals, finishes the album out perfectly with an epic, fragile build. With Arms Like Wands” features a varied blast which glues the different pieces together into something heavy and intense; pummeling down like sheets of rain. While “If You Leave” features a long introduction that feels like the first minutes of Moonsorrow‘s Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa, the build in the middle pulses with an intensity that makes poppy, sadboy melodies of the outro ache. “I Will Go to Your Tomb” even starts off with a riff that reminds me of Heathens—or Enslaved—before tempering its pace a bit.

Wildernessking 2016 by Eckardt Kasselman

Still, Mystical Future shows Wildernessking at its most atmospheric. There are no real burners on here, and the even the more intense moments are tempered by a production which is engineered to take the bite out of the heaviest material. The feel is fantastic, though; at times meditative, at times fragile, and at times like little earthquakes rolling over you—especially when Keenan’s bass and Jason’s drums work together. “To Transcend” closes out Side A with a delicate instrumental piece, melancholy and beautiful, placing the band a lot closer to Alcest than Enslaved.

The LP mix and the digital mix sound similar, though the digital mix is more compressed. The vinyl mix clocks in at a DR 8, which I still think is a bit high, but it sounds quite good. The fact that a band with a sound as airy and open as this would have a loud master strikes me as weird, however. The charm of Mystical Future is in the sepulchral resonance of the mix. So much of the atmosphere is carried on the backs of this production—owing a heavy nod to “Cascadian” black metal’s ham-handed plundering of Norway—and particularly the sound of the drums stands out here. The whole feel is luscious, and the mix and the tone of the production works perfectly.

Mystical Future is an excellent addition to the Wildernessking catalogue. It’s different enough from The Writing of Gods in the Sand that it’s almost difficult to compare the two. Ironically, the band took the things that I thought were the weakest about their first full-length and doubled-down on them. But rather than putting out an album that crumbles under the weight of overlong songs and repetitive riffs, they crafted something with the deft touch of a Moonsorrow or October Falls—bands whose ability to navigate the eddies of their songs makes even their 13-minute compositions gripping. Mystical Future lands somewhere between ethereal and crushing, and that seems to be exactly where Wildernessking wants to be.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Media Reviewed: Lossless Vinyl Master
Label: Self-Release / Sick Man Getting Sick Records (LP)
Websites: wildernessking.bandcamp.comwildernessking.com | facebook.com/wildernessking
Release Dates: Digital: 2016.01.25 | Vinyl: 2016.02.01 | CD: 2016.02.26

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  • How did these guys not get unicorned??

    • Monsterth Goatom

      It’s one of those trick pictures. Look at when you’re drunk, and you’ll be able to see everyone clearly.
      And I thought you were the chief Unicorn dispenser. You slacking off?

      • I’m the Unicorner-in-Chief. I’m brootal but fair.

        • Wilbur Teegrus

          Unijorner*

          • Hulksteraus

            That is SOOOOO last year…

    • They get the “AMG likes this band” reprieve.

  • AndySynn

    I love this album. AMG, all is (almost) forgiven.

  • El_Cuervo

    Great album. Highly engaging. Love this.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    The distancing of instruments and sweep of sound reminds me a bit of Ethereal Shroud, though overall the two bands are quite distinct in…. melodic structure? If I knew more about music, I might be able to describe the difference…. Maybe ES makes more use of chromaticism? Just thinking out loud. Anyway, a great release and I like how you embedded the album in the review.

  • Pimpolho

    The snare sounds a bit funny. I can probably get behind it, because i really like atmo-black metal, but still…

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Wow, Alexandra Morte’s vocals are perfectly suited to this music. She takes the album to a whole different level.

  • Reese Burns

    Usually I’m all about this kind of music. It’s almost like emotional purging, and I love it, but there’s something about this band that just doesn’t click with me, and for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is. I almost feel cheated, if that makes sense.

    • madhare

      I’m with you on this. There are nice moments, but on the whole it just doesn’t click, like you said.

      For some reason it feels like they’re playing atmospheric metal by the numbers, and never achieve any true emotion. As if they were merely imitating other bands. And the production just makes it worse. The tinny flat sound emphasises the emotional flatness.

  • Oh my god we’re going to have another month of a mountain scene as the background. Only this time… a little more depressing.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Available as a cassette or a vinyl. I’m thinking there’s another particular format they should also be selling it in. Seriously, cassette?

    • Reese Burns

      I don’t think cassettes should replace CDs if it’s a choice between one or another like it is here, but to be fair, cassettes are pretty cool collectors items.

      • As long as we’re arguing over a soon to be extinct format, I for one would like this album carved into a stone tablet. METAL m/

        • Reese Burns

          Forget stone, trve s4t4nic metal must be carved into preserved human bones.

    • Oscar Albretsen

      I just always want that actual CD. This day and age it should at least be available.

      • Pimpolho

        Yeah, i completely agree. Let’s just wait a bit, it will be released too.

  • Noobhammer

    Not going to lie, and I know we just had a blog post about this a bit ago, buuuuuuuuttttttt……I RRRRREEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLYYYYYYY wanna get the cassette format they’re offering on Bandcamp

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    I love this album a lot. It took a while to really appreciate it but now I’m hooked.

  • UishidoX

    damn and here I didn’t want to spend money on music anymore before the end of the month… sigh… too late

  • Javier Truyol

    Last two songs are too good…what a fantastic album this is

  • Pimpolho

    Sorry for the late comment, but isn’t this kind of production that you complained about in the Amestigon review? What makes this (completely awesome) album different?

    • I don’t recall having reviewed that album.

      • Pimpolho

        Yes, correct, you didn’t, it was Roquentin, but i was referring to your comment on that review:
        “This is good, but I’m still having issues with this whole “everything that sounds far away is awesome” trend in metal. I miss raw energy.”

        and also

        “Tunnel production. You set all the instruments down the tunnel 40 feet and then you set your microphones up there, that way you can make everything feel as far away as possible. It softens everything up, there’s no attack. No intensity.”

        Sorry for not expressing myself correctly.

        • Ahh, yeah. I dislike it in certain contexts. I criticized the most recent Thyrfing record for having that sound as well. I think it can rob a band of its attack—which I comment on here. I just think that the way these guys write songs leads to a great sound.

  • HMG

    Mixed.