Gaerea – Limbo Review

Is black metal good? The answer is no. Or at least, I would have said no when I started writing here. Flippantly, sure, but I was a different man and back in 2013 black metal was a different beast. Most of the mass clogging the drain of the promo sump was of the two-waves-one-man variety, and with the exception of luminary avant-garde acts like Sigh and Dodecahedron, it seemed like the only alternative to reliving the early Norwegian days was playing blast beats over Slowdive. But in the last decade black metal has flourished like never before. Not only is the hipster shit – Krallice, Hope Drone, Yellow Eyes – better than ever, but less outwardly ambitious bands are producing more engaging and memorable black metal records than I ever ran into in my younger days. With their colossal debut, Unsettling Whispers, Gaerea became a marquis moniker in unpretentious black metal, and true to its name, Limbo just brushes under the bar set by its predecessor.

Those familiar with Unsettling Whispers will realize that’s no mean feat. Gaerea’s music is a mindful mélange of menace and mourning, melody and malice merged into monolithic masses. It’s a mix masterfully manifested in Limbo’s shortest track, “Urge,” which explodes into being at a sprint, dropping a few galloping death metal riffs before it fully introduces its cathartic melody. Culminating in an intense deluge, complete with the dour choral backing that’s scattered across Limbo, “Urge” is Limbo’s most succinct and uniform song. Five more of those would make a convincing album, but Gaerea have greater plans than that.

Though Limbo maintains the same standard of intensity throughout its fifty-one minutes, there’s far more to it than “Urge” lets on, and Gaerea use the record to prove themselves particularly proficient practitioners of long-form black metal. “To Ain” begins the album with a menacing series of chords but follows up with a simple, broad melody that turns the opening on its head. Four minutes in, the song snaps into a dire, icy blast that again ends with that simple four-tone melodic figure established at the beginning. When the figure returns at the climax of the song, it’s expanded and elaborated almost into a canon, where two guitars alternately attach and separate themselves from that backbone. It took eleven minutes, but the band expanded the simple motif into something spectacular.

Careful repetition and restraint construct the perfect scaffold for Gaerea’s blazes to burn down, and the uncredited players are careful guardians of the blaze. The vocals are particularly expressive and interesting, sometimes commanding, sometimes feeling strained to the breaking point, especially among the ringing arpeggios that end “Null.” The drum work, often underdeveloped in black metal, becomes particularly versatile when the band throw water on the bonfire. There’s almost a shuffle to the bridge of “To Ain,” and the gradual boil of “Conspiranoia” provides plenty of space for the kick and snare to trade off quarters and eighths, as if collecting each hit of the blast beat off of the kit before assembling the finished rhythm. Though their rhythmic and melodic figures are often simple, Gaerea’s thoughtful touches elevate these songs from exercise to art.

It’s that simplicity that keeps me from downright loving Limbo, but it’s also what make Gaerea such a compelling addition to the black metal scene. Few bands could make material like this sound so alive. More and shorter songs make Unsettling Whispers the more diverse of the band’s two LPs, but Limbo proves their skill in songwriting, that most vexing and crucial skill in album creation. Limbo is an album set to impress and just as worthy of back-to back spins as its predecessor, relying on the strength of its songs rather than any cloak-and dagger antics to keep your interest. Though I might always be partial to the most expressionistic and abstract works of the genre1, it’s tough to deny the appeal of smart, straightforward black metal that’s more fit for admiration than alienation. And I need not deny it; black metal is good, and Limbo is a great black metal record.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label:  Season of Mist
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 24th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. And to the more dynamic recordings accompanying them.
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