What kind of black metal band do you want to be?
This question is one that any budding black metal act needs to answer firmly before visiting the riff forge. The style has been taken down countless unprecedented paths since its simplistic origins, and—insufferable second wave stalwarts aside—many modern genre fans find their favorite acts rooted in wildly varying styles. It can be daunting for consumers to keep track of it all; for those who are also aspiring black metal musicians, pigeonholing a specific sound must require diligent compromise so as not to spread oneself too thin. Unless, of course, you come from Canada and go by the moniker of Eclipser, whose only compromise is in the amount of disc space they’ve saved with their debut LP, Pathos.
Eclipser takes an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to black metal songcraft, the kind with which I could waste an entire review through dropping adjectives alone. Where most bands that attempt such a gratuitous level of stylistic splicing make a mess of the proceedings, Eclipser soars thanks to songwriting tact and instrumental consistency. Each track on Pathos incorporates elements of bludgeoning death metal, dizzying blackened dissonance, and dense, melodic atmoblack, all tied together by Eclipser‘s persistent technical mindset. Riffs frequently make neck-breaking turns from quicksilver tremolo runs into methodically plucked chords with seemingly effortless efficiency, making for a flow that is as seamless as it is unpredictable. The excellent guitar work, combined with the band’s effortless shifts in melodic tact—ranging from optimistic to sinister to downright cosmic—make Pathos one of the most confident black metal debuts in recent memory.
Eclipser is a band bewilderingly free of weaknesses at such an early stage, to the point where my only major sticking point with Pathos is the best criticism a band can receive: this thing is too damn short, leaving little breathing room for Eclipser to fully explore their best ideas. Pathos is front-loaded with tracks that showcase all of the band’s strengths in downright stellar compositions, but after the third track, the formula feels slightly diluted. Keep in mind, though, that there are only seven tracks, total, and even the weaker cuts are still compelling. “Sorrow Spirals,” for instance, travels mournful tremolo riffs towards a downbeat, oppressively melancholic conclusion. The closing title track, meanwhile, delivers an appropriate sense of finality through bittersweet guitar lines, eventually climaxing with progressive calamity. I’m only slightly disappointed that the latter half of the album lacks the rhythmic weight and disorienting instrumentals of the former, expertly exemplified in the death-metallized bout of Deathspell Omega worship that is “Coagulation.”
Stunted length aside, Pathos is a record executed to near perfection, due in no small part to Eclipser‘s ridiculous pool of talent. This cast of relative unknowns is universally excellent, with guitarists Ryan Menard and Christian Beaupre shining especially bright. Even after countless listens, I’m still unearthing the nuances of their head-spinning performances and complex riff layering. Menard impressively pulls this off while also covering the mic, and while his harsh vox aren’t revolutionary, his icy, scathing shrieks place him alongside the best of black metal’s second wave. Drummer Chris Joyal turns in one helluva diverse performance fitting for Eclipser’s varied approach to the genre, and even bassist Phil Billingham is given ample room to show off his significant chops thanks to the mixing. Though slightly overmastered, Pathos sports a balanced mix, and the engineering in general allows for caustic tones balanced with modern clarity. All in all, this is a great sounding record.
I should reiterate before I close that Pathos is an album without significant weak points. Its back half, while slightly underwhelming, only comes across as such because its few opening tracks are so fucking strong; it’s a case of fantastic compositions overshadowing relatively weaker tracks, which are very good in their own right. Perhaps I should just be thankful that Eclipser didn’t risk biting off more than they can chew, as Pathos’ sheer diversity offers a lot to take in considering its truncated state. It’s an impressive example of the modern North American black metal scene, handily matching the technical creativity and melodic nuances exemplified in recent outings from Infera Bruo and Botis. Whether Eclipser can keep up the quality is anyone’s guess, but they already stand out with only a debut under the belt, which is an impressive feat in its own right.