Music’s ability to forge uniquely personal relationships with individual listeners is something that genuinely amazes me. Any given song could be played to any given number of people, and no two personal experiences would ever be entirely the same, thanks to the fascinating way that each individual life essentially shapes how the listener will feel about what they hear. Maybe an album haunts you with its recollective ghosts, maybe a certain genre only dances with you in the frozen dark of a winters night, maybe that song left a scar that only bleeds when you hear the words. The marks and meanings, the songs and sounds… These things vary uniquely from person to person, but we all experience this phenomenon in some way or other. Spain’s Calyx have added yet another piece to my own perpetually expanding puzzle of music mandated mindsets. To wit, their debut Vientos Arcaicos (“Archaic Winds”) makes me want to turn the lights off, smoke my brains out, and play Skyrim til the Nordic cows come home.
As Vientos Arcaicos lowers its drawbridge and welcomes us into its keep with the tastefully restrained medieval-y “Intro,” we are taken to another time, to ye olde days of great stone castles, knights, minstrels and good old fashioned plague. Calyx frequently utilize folky melodies to maintain an archaic atmosphere, though such pronounced medieval flourishes are much more subtle for the bulk of the album, only ever to be given such focused prominence again during closer “Loarre.” Stripped of their newfangled electric amplification and fancy modern tonal effects, many of these riffs and refrains could easily serve as lute tablature for some good olde tavern tunes, not unlike—though also sounding nothing at all like—
good early In Flames. What’s more, the songs on Vientos Arcaicos know how to get when the getting’s good, continuously charging forward from one rifftastic moment to the next instead of wallowing in a niche element and bogging everything down with bloated cheese. With this effect successfully reined in and applied sparingly, blended in pragmatically rather than thrown in with wild gimmicky abandon, Calyx manage to make their medieval methodology sound natural and convincing.
With those snazzy contemporary accouterments mentioned earlier, Calyx make this convincing, natural-sounding sound sound like it’s not just from another time, but another world—specifically, one beset by dragons, demons, Hellfire, and all manner of fairytale tragedies. Not being particularly well versed in Spanish, this imagery is purely contrived from my imagination, which speaks universal volumes to the expressive capabilities of this music. Guitarists S.D. and Fantoni’s Mayhem-meets-minstrel modus operandi is as sinister and savage as any blackened post-feudalism act, and Ator Humungus’ classic black shrieks straight up sound like a village being burned down. Picture something to the effect of Ungfell laying siege to Peste Noir, and you’ll be in the right courtyard. Once you cross “Intro’s” moat and enter Calyx‘s kingdom, everything is on fire in a harrowing scene straight out of Game of Thrones: we’re home, yo.
Ov course, atmospheric aesthetics and a general vibe alone cannot a great album make—that’s what all the riffs are for. Every proper track on Vientos Arcaicos is a ceaseless barrage of first-wave black metal aggression, rife with riffs and wrath recalling Bathory, Candlemass, Mayhem and a splash of mead. I’d gladly joust any miserable sod who deigned to deny the obsidian righteousness ov “La Sima” and “Loarre.” Calyx maintain a malevolent momentum throughout the album’s 44 minutes, hardly ever letting up for air and yet never becoming outright overwhelming. Though the melodies don’t bleed into surrounding tracks to form direct segues, the songs here still come across as quite cohesive; every time I revisit this one, I find I’m compelled to hear the whole thing through and that the experience all but flies by.
I have but two complaints regarding Vientos Arcaicos. Firstly, the feedback fade-in from “Intro” into “La Venganza de las Brujas” falters, somewhat diminishing the immersive effect. A trivial gripe, but a gripe nonetheless. Secondly, this fucking album is gonna make me fat: as soon as Vientos Arcaicos starts, all I want from life is an infinite Skyrim session with the album on loop, along with some mood enhancing herbs and a bag or fifty of Doritos. It’s an album to get lost in, one that fills my head with glorious archaic fantasies and leaves me begging for it to return each time it ends. I’ll be talking about this one again come list season, provided I can ever escape my couch.