One of my favorite things about underground music is that if a band fades away into obscurity, a handful of acts will assuredly congregate to carry on their legacy. In the case of today’s subject, the torch droppers don’t form a single band, but rather an entire scene. With scant few acts from the golden era of Finnish melodic death metal living up to their former glitter and gusto, the torch has been unwittingly passed across state lines. From Æther Realm to Aephanemer, the kids who grew up worshiping at the altars of Ensiferum, Children of Bodom, and scores of others are now handily matching the quality of their influences. California’s Crepuscle is no exception. Their sophomore outing Heavenly Skies represents a massive uptick in quality for the band and a massively enjoyable celebration of the style they so clearly adore.
American or not, Heavenly Skies sounds authentic, geographical and cultural barriers be damned. While the chuggy rhythm guitars and icy sympho-synths paint Crepuscle as Kalmah followers first and foremost, they effortlessly incorporate sounds from across the Finnish melodeath spectrum. The soaring lead guitars spark with adventurous, heroic personality, echoing the hyper-melodic folk pioneered by Ensiferum. The casual interjections of brief acoustic passages further bolster this association, providing in-track dynamism to emphasize Heavenly Skies‘ considerable variety. Certain tracks wander through Insomnium-esque melancholy (“Resignation”); others burst forth with symphonic bombast (“Heavenly Skies”). Crepuscule is strongest when playing at top speed (which, to be clear, is most of the time), but no corner of Heavenly Skies is wanting for confidence, and its forty-three minutes positively fly.
Crepuscle‘s melodic and rhythmic chops alone would make Heavenly Skies recommendable, but their songwriting talents make it borderline essential. Propulsive is an understatement; these compositions twist and turn in often unpredictable ways, jettisoning the listener without ever losing sight of each track’s thesis. “Elapsing Eternity” makes for a prime example of the band’s songwriting philosophy, simmering in mid-paced, wintry majesty before culminating in victorious blastbeats that would send most power metal bands packing with their tails between their legs. A handful of cuts are notably more straightforward, and although a track or two shoulder this trait as a weakness (namely “Limitless,” which lacks compositional progression to justify its extended length), relative simplicity is not always a detriment. “In the Winds of Glory” is my favorite track on the record through sheer force of speed alone, reinforcing Crepuscle’s immense talents in a stripped-down state.
Speaking of talent, boy, does Crepuscle pack it in. Guitarists Eligio Tapia and Cameron Stucky provide the obligatory shred-work yet keep things interesting through emotive leads. It’s Tapia’s lead vocal contributions that shine especially bright, however, as his incredible growl is as gravelly and commanding as it is refreshingly coherent. JB Schuler’s kit-work is a dynamic boon to Heavenly Skies’ already varied compositions, with his regular change-ups and liberal implementation of blastbeats gifting tracks like “Eternal Waters” with a blackened and progressive touch. Though not exactly dynamic, Heavenly Skies is quite solid from an engineering perspective, as well. The ever-present synths comfortably coexist with the other instruments without threatening to drown them out, while the crispy, crunchy snare ensures an infectious rhythmic base. Certain rhythm guitar passages, as well as the bass guitar, could stand to be heightened in the mix, but overall Heavenly Skies sounds much better than the bulk of records that inspired its creation.
Minor quibbles – the rare weak track, a handful of mixing gripes – are easily forgiven with a sound as vibrant and authentic as this one. I absolutely love Heavenly Skies, but I’m hesitant to place Crepuscle in the AMG 4.0 club just yet, if only because they don’t exactly bring anything new into the fold. Even so, the potential for a truly transcendent follow-up is palpable; it feels inevitable, even. Melodeath fans should abso-fucking-lutely not read Crepuscle’s intentional derivativeness as an excuse to avoid giving them your hard-earned Bandcamp bucks. Heavenly Skies manages to stand out as a shining example of the genre, even in what might be the best year the genre has seen in the last decade, and that’s a helluva achievement. Buy this; you’ll be a proud early adopter once Crepuscle joins the ranks as one of the best acts that this stylistic resurgence has to offer.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Creator-Destructor Records Official | Bandcamp
Websites: crepuscle.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/crepuscleofficial
Releases Worldwide: October 11th, 2019