Time and time again, I have berated black metal as an institution. Partially because it is so institutionalized that it seems to have lost its teeth and inventiveness, and partially ’cause where it does seem to be advancing is into areas that I think are boring. So, I’m not exactly the guy who you should be looking to for your black metal needs (my flash in the pan status among the young and hip is evidence enough of that). I require things to
not suck move a little faster, have a little more action and not be generally cliche and irritating. Wildernessking (formerly known as Heathens and hailing from South Africa) is all of these things, while not falling into the cliches of a scene past its prime. While the band has moved on a bit from the black n’ roll origins of their first demo Oh, Mock the Heavens and Let the Heathens Sing, they offer up with their new full length The Writing of Gods in the Sand, a remarkable slab of inventive black metal, whatever way you want to slice it.
I knew from the first couple minutes of opening track “Rubicon” (which you can listen to here) that I was going to love what followed. Starting with the savage, primal screams of bassist Keenan Nathan Oakes, these guys don’t wait a second to knock you back on your heels before settling into some of the coolest Enslaved riffing since Vertebrae. This track, and those that follows, vary between mid-paced atmospheric black metal, blast happy black metal and a more melancholy, slower side that will definitely get them lumped into the post-black metal movement by writers and critics (fair or otherwise). But where the darlings of the post-black metal scene tend to bore me with long passages and too much mind-numbing repetition, The Writing of Gods in the Sand balances upon that ledge, mixing up writing structures, feels and atmosphere while being able to knock out riffs and melodies that drill into the listeners skin with razor sharp hooks and pull tight.
Though, it is the post-black/sludge elements that I find the least appealing to this record (and the reason it’s not just straight up perfect). After the opening track “Rubicon,” the follow up “Discovery” follows and it almost lost me. Slow, sludgy and atmospheric, the track goes on for nearly 10 minutes and half of that would have been stretching it in my opinion. Fortunately, the rest of the album, while it does get into this sort of doomy or sludgy riffing from time to time, avoids falling into this trap. My other complaint is that a lot of the straight forward rocking riffs on the Heathens demos have gone missing but it’s not like there’s a lack of musical quality or something. It is the riffs (check out “Utopia”), their catchiness and the consistency of the songwriting that hold this album together as a whole.
So aside from one song that I think could probably be done away with entirely to make this a perfect album The Writings of Gods in the Sand is easily one of the best black metal records I’ve heard in ages. The production is clean and balanced, but the writing makes it raw while balancing it with beautiful melodies and fragile sounds. The name Wildernessking fits The Writings of Gods in the Sand perfectly, as it reflects an image of the natural world: balanced between the harsh realities of life and death and the stark beauties and the dangers that lurk inside of them.