Celestial Swarm – Gateways to the Necroverse [Things You Might Have Missed 2021]

It seems like I routinely encounter one album within the first week of the year that sticks with me to the end. In 2021, that honor belongs to Celestial Swarm’s immense debut, Gateways to the Necroverse. The international four-piece claim to innovate a novel subset of br00tality: “slamming black metal.” Given what I’ve spent an entire year absorbing, I think a better moniker is “brutal black metal,” but I suppose that’s splitting hairs. At any rate, their proposition intrigued me, and Celestial Swarm knew exactly how to sell it.

The core contrast between Gateways to the Necroverse and the vast majority of brutal slamming whatsits is a matter of songwriting. Namely, Celestial Swarm put songwriting first, aesthetic second. Gateways to the Necroverse is crushing, subversively melodic metal with a ton of variety in riffs, vocal approaches, and pacing, yet retains a singular cohesive character. Its performances, despite thousands of miles separating each bandmate, are tight and tectonic in equal measure. Perhaps most importantly, the band’s assertion that they play “slamming black metal,” and not just some run-of-the-mill brutal thing, holds water—I’m not familiar with anything that sounds like what Celestial Swarm spawned in style or substance.

Speaking of style and substance, Gateways to the Necroverse possesses both in spades. Titular opener “Gateways to the Necroverse” introduces the album as the supermassive monstrosity that it is, yet clutches its versatile hand close to the chest. “Forlorn Oblivion,” in turn, tears away that illusion of one-dimensionality, expertly blending slamming brutality with incredibly groovy riffs and hooky vocal lines, supplemented by a thick, smoky vein of blackened tremolo leads. That song also unveils something particularly interesting about how Celestial Swarm’s riffs position themselves in their corresponding song structures. One technique more commonly used in the vocal delivery of hip-hop and rap music, designed specifically to imbue swagger and personality within a verse, is to place words just a fraction of a second after the beat. Similarly, the hard points of Celestial Swarm’s hardest-hitting riffs purposefully fall in concert with, but not right on top of, the beat. Thanks to this approach, Gateways to the Necroverse bleeds with attitude and personality that feels comparatively absent in so much brutal fare, and it’s exciting to behold.

Attentive listeners will consistently uncover more and more of Celestial Swarm’s complex character the more often they revisit Gateways to the Necroverse. “Void Architects,” “Putrid Black Monolith,” and others each offer another piece of the sonic puzzle, and every newly discovered detail brings a burst of joy to the experience. Luckily, Celestial Swarm aren’t afraid to let it all hang out in the open, either. “The Harvesters,” easily the album’s crown jewel, explodes into existence with an unbelievably hooky main riff, which brilliantly evolves into an even more infectious passage, then redirects to pit slams, brooding solos and blackened tremolos against each other in delightful counterpoint. It’s one of the best songs of the year, full stop.

I could go on and on about this album. Alas, you’ll have to settle for my woefully truncated article singing its praises. Gateways to the Necroverse is brilliant without being pretentious, expressive without being ostentatious, cohesive without being monotonous. In short, Celestial Swarm is a great new act, and Gateways to the Necroverse is absolutely essential listening.

Tracks to Check Out: “Forlorn Oblivion,” “Sentient Colony,” “Putrid Black Monolith,” and “The Harvesters”

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