It’s been said by some that Moldova sucks, but when it comes to metal, Latvia does not! Hailing from Latvia’s capital city (Riga), Eschatos have been constructing their brand of avant-garde/progressive black metal since 2012. Their fledgling release (Hierophanies) caught my attention with its eye-catching album art, but that’s not where it ended. Much like the lone Piranha jumping out at you from the packaging, the album hit with fervor, all sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Consisting of only five tracks and totaling a little over 31 minutes, the bite-sized debut proved an engaging beast, comparable in style to mid-period Darkthrone or Vreid, with well thought out stylistic shifts, attention to catchiness and skillful vocal application by front-woman Kristiāna Kārkliņa. Some time has passed and I’d all but given up in hearing from Eschatos again. Seems I was wrong – they’re back with vengeance on The Grand Noir.
On first impression of the album, it’s clear that Eschatos have been consistent in offering us only their best – six tracks that play out in under 42 minutes and leave you wanting more. Once again written, arranged and produced by Eschatos, mixing undertaken by Guntis Podvigs and Eschatos at Eschatos Studio and mastering by Hodila Records, The Grand Noir has a crisp and clear delivery that plays to the bands strengths. Instrumental opener, “The Grand Noir Rising,” leverages minimalism, featuring an almost Tool-like atmosphere. The track seems typical on first listen, but with repeat plays, nuances shine through adding to the edginess.
Enraged and brimming with Darkthrone styled bluster, “In Whole Alone is Good and Elsewhere Nowhere” bears the burning cross of a terrible title, but striking tempo changes and the introduction of Kristiāna’s snarl laced with a Carach Angren narrative will lock in the listener. Just like that, the stage is set for “The First, The Last and The Living,” “On The Divine Names” and “Feast of a Thousand Beasts.” Each works to maintain the Darkthrone-y vibe of “In Whole Alone” while also showcasing that Eschatos are not yet out of tricks or treats. Following a militant opener reminiscent of Marduk, “The First, the Last and the Living” offers skillful bass riffing that snaps and pops re-iterating the strength of the production choices made by Eschatos. My only gripe, is that despite some interesting guitar lines, melodic one moment and idiosyncratic the next, there’s a slight lack of intensity that niggles away, probably because I’m thinking about what could have been were a gent like Mortuus (Marduk) leading this horde.
“Feast of a Thousand Beasts” tumbles in with all the aplomb and eccentricity of a group of jesters on parade. Irregularly timed notes contribute to otherworldly melodies and recurring chants, giving the track a mischievous life of its own. The Grand Noir progresses towards an odd but beautiful ending hinting at a blend of progressive death merchants In Mourning and depressive black metal sad boys Eudaimony, Eschatos switch over to an almost Agalloch-like black metal vocal style to deliver “Sterile Nails and Thunderbowels.” Abrasion wears through the sludgy fuzzed out rhythm guitar-work, and this along with black ‘n roll frenzy and disconcerting sound effects, loads the back-end of the album with some highly enjoyable gloom.
When compared to its predecessor, The Grand Noir comes across as more mature and the slightly more seasoned. If I were to table a complaint, I could say that “The Grand Noir Rising” and “The First, The Last and The Living” could lose a few moments off the back end, but I’d be nitpicking. The Grand Noir is a respectable album with an inviting production style that’s best enjoyed as a whole. Just think of it as Iced Tea at a lemonade stand.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Starwolf Records
Releases Worldwide: October 7th, 2016