No matter the band or the number of releases they have, when I review them, I start from the beginning. I listen to every track, rank every album, and then proceed onto the newest promo. And each time I’ve sat down to review a Falls of Rauros,1 I’ve done it this way. And, every time, I’m shocked by how solid a catalog they have. With some bands, you could get away with stopping at their debut and regurgitating those first impressions in a review for every successive release.2 Other bands evolve so much that what you knew about them on their debut is nonexistent some half-dozen releases, or so, later.3 Neither scenario is bad if the band is good at what they do. And these Mainers are good at what they do.
If you’ve been living under a rock since 2014, Falls of Rauros have evolved tremendously and done no wrong by doing so. From The Light That Dwells in the Rotten Wood to Believe in No Coming to Vigilance Perennial, the band has expanded its sound so much that Vigilance Perennial could be a different entity for all I know. And this year’s Patterns in Mythology is no different. FoR continue where they left Vigilance, creating a soundscape of lush textures whose brushstrokes are thunderous black metal riffs, clean and acoustic guitar work, spleen-rupturing rasps and distant clean vocals. Yet, for all the evolution, FoR‘s John Hancock is still recognizable in the bottom right-hand corner of the tapestry.
Like Vigilance‘s opener “White Granite,”4 Patterns‘ back-to-back “Détournement” and “Weapons of Refusal” conjure up every emotion possible. Much in the way that old-school Alcest, Agalloch, and everything The Ocean has ever done, these two album-opening weapons smother me until I’m breathless. The clean-guitar atmospheres of “Détournement” are the ultimate asphyxiators, filling your lungs with suffocating liquid. Then, like a sharp jab to the center of your chest, “Weapons of Refusal” boils that liquid in your defenseless air sacks. Coming at you with one of the heaviest black metal bits the band has ever recorded—with a combination of blackened rasps and guttural growls—”Weapons of Refusal” begins a roller coaster ride that doesn’t stop until the album is over. At eleven minutes, we watch as the track levels a city, only to hover over its ashes in mourning. Of all the tracks on Patterns, “Weapons of Refusal” is the most expansive journey. By the end, you won’t believe such a heart-warming conclusion resulted from an introduction so hell-bent on destroying the world. That’s the power of FoR‘s songwriting.
“Last Empty Tradition” is another such track. Instead of coming at you with full force, the opening minutes of the song—with slick Spirit Adriftishness—feel as they’re going nowhere. But that, my friend, is the greatest con. With a little help from the bass, “Last Empty Tradition” begins an ascension only the most-skillful climber would dare achieve As far as builds go, it’s the best on the album. Though it appears to linger at the beginning, it’s a masterful piece focused on placing a flag at the summit.
Also using the bass as a focal point, “New Inertia” and closer “Memory at Night” power through their nine-minute runtimes with similar gusto. “New Inertia” alternates rasps and barks, while delivering guitar solos, sick bass leads, and kickass drum work not found on any of the other tracks. The closer, though, has a climax like none the band has ever written. Delving deep into the post-hardcore stylings of The Ocean, the melodic builds are wave-like while the vocals come unhinged. Though there’s the signature tunnel-shrieking, the vocals also scream forth in a newfound pain and anguish. It’s a great way to close out the album and shows, yet again, that FoR ain’t afraid of shit.
Production-wise, Patterns is masterful. While the band has always had smooth dynamics, you can feel every nook and cranny of Patterns. No one instrument is at the forefront and the mix is the perfect shell atop crème brûlée. Of these six tracks and their forty-five minutes, “Renouvellement” is the only track I don’t enjoy. Like the opener, this three-plus-minute piece breaks up the cannonade and gives slight relief to the epic pieces on the album. Yet, its Agalloch-like delivery is bland and goes nowhere. And, while adventurous, the clean vox standout in a bad way. Other than that, Patterns is the same quality as Vigilance Perennial. It has all the Alcestian and Agallochian feels one could hope for, with a couple of added touches. For FoR, it’s another day, another very good album.
Master of Muppets
A wild Muppet appears! Maine is about as renowned for its black metal as it is for anything else that isn’t lobsters, blueberries, or Stephen King, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna trust my homelands trvest export alone with Arizonan Ne’er-do-well Grier; I’m worried that his review isn’t biased enough, yo. There’s also the tiniest, itsiest little bit ov a possibility that alcohol and boredom coaxed me into challenging the Assumed Non-doctrinaire to a medieval weapons duel for the reviewing rights. We don’t need to discuss the details of that endeavor, but suffice it to say enough of me made it out of the pit to slap this bloodied review on Steel‘s desk. Now, before the rest of me loses consciousness, let’s proceed with
the real review my take on Patterns in Mythology.
Falls of Rauros haven’t reinvented the wheel with Patterns in Mythology, but they’ve definitely made most of the competition look like a bunch ov bitches. While many strive to capitalize on Agalloch‘s glories by arbitrarily blending basic, blasé acoustic bits with stock black metal riffs and praying that the rest of us can’t believe it’s not bvtter, Falls of Rauros balance honesty and inspiration, resulting in a band that sometimes certainly sounds similar to the aforementioned melancholy spirit but—most importantly—also always sounds like themselves. There’s a palpable passion pervading through Patterns, an audible sense of sincerity to every post-metally solo and obsidian shriek contained within its six tracks that has been sorely missed in the absence of Agalloch. Acoustic elements aren’t quite as prominent on Patterns, but the energetic lead work is every bit as perfervid and powerful as any pre-Sphere Agalloch gem.
While comparisons to Agalloch are inescapable, there’s a proclivity for positivity within the passages of Patterns that puts these Portlanders on a plane perhaps more parallel to the comparatively pleasant paths ov Vvilderness or Vukari. “Last Empty Tradition,” for example, opens with almost Satriani levels of gleeful fretboard exuberance, and even the pensive, brooding bass bit which begins the capstone “Memory at Night” ultimately ascends to exultant Alcestian atmospheres. Even the most straightforward black metal offering on Patterns, “Weapons of Refusal,” brings more grin than grim with its traditional tremolo turmoil and paroxysmic percussive power; that such jet-black screeches can fit in and flourish amidst the instrumental ebullience is impressive, to say the least. Major scales and bright, shimmering post-metal lead work turn the frovvn ov a traditionally grim sound upside down, and the constant, energetic sense of forwarding momentum of the songwriting makes this one more of a gleeful skip through Bambi’s hood than a downtrodden slog through the Suicide Forest.
While Patterns in Mythology makes for a trvly excellent sunny day black metal soundtrack, a few things hold it back from trve perfection. For one, it’s 2019; everybody and their mother is making post-black metal these days, and as good as Patterns is it could stand to explore a little more. A certain level of innovation is needed in order to fully secure the crown in any genre, and while the sincerity and talent of Falls of Rauros are undeniable, I still feel like they’re a song or two away from really rising above the surrounding sea of similar shoulders and making a trvly distinct name for themselves. This sense of sonic similarity, coupled with a minor aversion to fat trimming—which really only flares up in a couple of waffling moments during the lengthy “Weapons of Refusal”—keeps Patterns from standing out too much, but it hardly keeps it from commandeering my headphones.
In the end, it doesn’t even matter what rating I or that Asshole Non-contributor Grier5 assign to Patterns in Mythology. Falls of Rauros are another band of dreamers chasing the Agallochian dragon, their chief distinguishment being their aptitude and sincerity, a sense that this is not a sound that the band makes but rather the sounds that the band is made of. If evocative atmospheric black metal isn’t your thing,
GTFO Patterns likely won’t be, either. If it is, then hail Hydra there’s a fifty:fifty chance you’ll either love this album to death or else just really, really like it. It’s no secret where I stand here, the real question is just how could such a gloriously blackened act ever have hailed from the same time-forgotten wastelands that birthed Patrick fucking Dempsey???