Once in a while an album comes around that demands my attention so completely that I can’t think about anything else. Most of the time we just happen to get promo for such things, but every once in a blue moon the item in question fails to fall into our waiting laps. There isn’t much I can do about that—we simply have too much in there to choose from, and proper channels are proper channels. “I’ll have to wait,” says the little voice in my head, “until that winter wonderland of Things You Might Have Missed returns at the end of the year.” Well, it’s fucking January, and I’m not waiting another gotdamn picosecond. I have an album with which you should get yourselves familiar all quick-like, because it’s my favorite release this month. I give you 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre, by China’s 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre.
Little information regarding this entity exists save for the fact that their music originates from the Guangdong Province, located just Northwest of Hong Kong. That’s it. Hell, I don’t even know how many individuals make up this group. What I do know is that their blend of folk metal and black metal is potent, bone-chilling material. Comparisons to Emperor and Black Kirin might be warranted, but I am loath to commit now that I’ve spent the last week and change with 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre. Traditional folk instruments battle alongside furious trem-picked guitars and thunderous atmosphere soaks through every fiber into your very skin. Beauty envelopes this war-torn wasteland in the quiet moments, only to be charred by fierce wails of despair and anguish. For a remarkably tight and memorable 36 minutes, you lose yourself in the smoke and debris of this devastated land which once thrived.
Opener “破軍 The Expendables” is efficient to say the least. Wasting little time with idle instrumentation or frivolous scene-setting, 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre storm the gate with haste, bringing one of the best riffs on the record. Rasping shrieks bode nothing but demise for whoever’s the target, and already my defenses crumble. Another massive riff brings the hammer down once more, and it is clear that this fallen apparition is out for blood. I hear pained cries coming from the distance. They grow more urgent as I draw closer, but “殞殤 Desperate War” yanks me from those pleading emanations and sweeps me away with the horde. I feel more than just anger and hurt now. Determination. Resolve. By the time closer “哀忿 Despair and Resentment” releases its final breath, I, drenched by rainfall and wind, experience nothing but cold emptiness, stricken with grief that I do not understand for people I never knew.
Possessed with rage but measured by method, 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre‘s first foray into the musical realm defines itself as a record of unrelenting purpose and of dynamic spirit. There is no question that this is a concept album, its story powerful and emotional. Multiple Chinese folk instruments play a key role in that regard. The midsection of the record is perhaps the best illustration thereof. It starts with the mid-paced, introspective “慟嘯 Wailing Wrath,” which bleeds gracefully into “歸隱 Hermit,” a gorgeous, intimate interlude devoid of electronic distortion yet brimming with heart. That, in turn, morphs into the monstrous “肅弒 Rainy Night Carnage,” which includes an explosive match between a demolishing set of riffs and fantastic soloing on what I suspect is a guzheng—a moment which I consider the climax of the record. Throughout 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre, touches like the above demonstrate how the folk influence facilitates laminar flow between songs by ensuring that the album’s character remains intact and evolves as the music guides it.
殞煞 Vengeful Spectre arranged every moment, every note, every howl with the utmost care, and the narrative is paramount. Even the song translations, as one knowledgeable individual pointed out to me on the interwebz, are thoughtfully rendered to represent the story over the “true” definitions of their corresponding characters. Put a blade to my neck and I might tell you the mix is a bit wonky in places (the bass in particular weaves in and out of the audible spectrum frequently) and the vocals are an acquired taste. Push the blade deeper and I might even admit that the band’s application of black metal isn’t forward-thinking, either. Nevertheless, 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre deserves more attention than it’s getting. Buy it.