A long time ago, on a website far, far away, I stumbled across a trve underground gem: Pantheion, the punishing debut of South Africa’s Crow Black Sky. Their take on blackened death was unique and impressive, and though the website was deemed a complete failure and ultimately collapsed into obscurity, I never lost interest in Crow Black Sky. Years passed, proper whore websites rose to power, and albums came and went, all without so much as some light clucking from the promising act. My tiny, blackened heart-thing spent many long nights petitioning a Crow-less sky, lifting its skinny metaphoric fists like antennas to Jørn and praying for the call of the bird. Eventually my hope went the way of common sense, gone and pretty much forgotten. So it goes, yo. Then on January 17, 2018, Jørn sent me a miracle. Well, actually Bandcamp sent me an email, but I think you know where I’m going with this: brand new Crow Black Sky, bitches! After years of impatiently waiting, I was more than ready for Sidereal Light: Volume One.
I was not at all ready for Sidereal Light: Volume One. Beyond the mouth-watering implications of the whole ‘Volume One’ after eight years of silence, I was also quite pleasantly surprised to quickly realize that Crow Black Sky had done the impossible and spent their time between albums learning and growing as a band. Nowhere is this more evident than in Ryan Higgo’s frankly ridiculous improvement handling lead vocals. While there were some comparatively weaker vocal moments on Pantheion, I never felt that they needed any drastic upgrades, and I certainly never expected the leaps forward to Amestigon and Anagnorisis levels that Higgo accomplishes here. “Lightless, Lifeless” is anything but, with Higgo’s trvly demonic vocals stealing the song and instilling it with far more life than you might expect from its 8:09 runtime. Folks, we’re talking a strengthened vocal progression and character development on a magnitude similar to In Flames’ discography played in reverse.
The unexpectedly enhanced vocals emerging from an eight years silent cocoon were reward enough after all this time, but the one-two punch of their newfound mastery of song structure in previously uncharted sonic solar systems proved to be the cake, icing, and cherry in this feast of Crow. Where Pantheion displayed clear skill and potential with its Behemoth-does-Winterhorde blackened death fury, Sidereal Light holds unquestionable dominion over the last kingdom I expected the band to claim: the final fucking frontier. This is an atmospheric black metal album Mesarthim or Mare Cognitum would be proud to have created, its four tracks chock full of shimmering ambience and calm, vacuous passages that rip us from the apocalyptic battlegrounds of Pantheion and straight into the terrifying expanses of space. “Ascendant” all but beams the listener directly into the constellations with its cascading intro, and it only goes furiously, beautifully up from there, each song merging naturally into an album best experienced as one start-to-finish journey.
It’s surely no coincidence that this emboldened performance and marked directional shift in the bands sound comes on the heels of some lineup adjusting. Two guitarists and the original bassist left the band between now and Pantheion, leaving only Gideon Lamprecht, Lawrence Jaeger and Ryan Higgo to respectively handle the guitar, percussion, and vocal/bass work of Crow Black Sky. Stripped to its core and given time to seethe and grow in the dark, this new-ish incarnation of the band utterly defies the notion of a sophomore slump, its soaring strings, perfectly punctuated percussion and vicious vocals fusing into something which surpasses its predecessor entirely. The aggression has been dialed down ever so slightly, but only in the sense that they’ve learned how to properly simmer in their rage, going full-on supernova between appropriate periods of cold tranquility. “Veils” demonstrates this newfound pacing proficiency to stellar effect, floating through serene TesseracT-ian nebulae and harrowing Aureole-ian darkness without batting an eye or missing a beat.
I’ve heard of bands maturing and improving, but I never thought I’d witness it in my lifetime. Sidereal Light: Volume One is an unexpected mini masterpiece of sorts, a 46 minute voyage to the stars told in 4 tracks which blend seamlessly and beautifully into a true testament to the growth and development of Crow Black Sky. With the sky clearly not being the limit, the bar for Volume 2 has been set astronomically high, and while I don’t relish the thought of another eight year Crow dormancy, it will be worth the pain of patience if the band can maintain this trajectory.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Independent Release
Websites: crowblacksky.bandcamp.com | crowblacksky.com | facebook.com/crowblacksky
Releases Worldwide: January 17th, 2018