A black metal Transcending Obscurity release with monochrome artwork: who could have ever foreseen this one falling into my velvety grasp? Portugal’s Gaerea certainly put their Muppet-est foot forward when casting Unsettling Whispers into the Angry Metal Promo Sump, and yet I was wary. Black metal is the best metal, ov course, but it’s also everywhere and lately sounding too similar to itself. Sure, a few vague details got my attention, but I’m a poseur and all the Muppet love in the world can’t make an album innovative or objectively meritorious; did I perhaps build my hopes too high only to find yet another band trying to be either Ulcerate or Agalloch?
Turns out I didn’t set my hopes anywhere near high enough; though I likely would have shamelessly gobbled up anything charred, what I got instead was a trvly exquisite obsidian morsel, unique and addicting in its own right whilst drawing favorable comparisons to such purveyors of blackened excellence as Soothsayer and Amestigon, among dark others. One could call this atmospheric black metal, but make no mistake: this isn’t dance-through-the-tears Deafheaven-core, but rather a super-massive black hole of bleak moods and murderous soundscapes which evoke all the best negative imagery a Muppet could hope for. “Extension to Nothingness” maybe a touch more Drudkh-ian than the rest of Unsettling Whispers, but even this much is done in a Blood in Our Wells manner, as opposed to the Mirrors in Our Navels way of Drudkh-ing things, and never does it relinquish any of the pitch-black savagery replete throughout the album. Gaerea crawl and claw their way through doom, death metal, sludge, and all manner ov malevolent metal-ings as they seethe through 42 minutes of blackened majesty, and the end result is more varied and ambitious than anything I can recall black metal giving us this year.
Unsettling Whispers opens with unsettling whispers and a delightfully dour buildup of brooding ambiance, walking a thin black line between Soothsayer and Zhrine as “Svn” coalesces into a seething state of violent euphoria with Ulcerate undertones, only for this fury expand further still into the somewhat more traditional blackness of “Absent.” This sense of ebb and flow is crucial to the album, utilized brilliantly between tracks as well as within the songs themselves. “Cycle of Decay” makes particularly tremendous use of this willingness to let the songs explore themselves, slithering between ominous tension and unbridled fury in an ever-shifting tumult which blends stylistic bits of Ancst, Gorguts and Amestigon into just under five minutes of refreshingly original-sounding turmoil. Even among the ambiance and dim post-metal lighting of “Whispers,” Gaerea refuse to sit still for long and for 7 seriously fucking grim tracks this strategy seriously fucking works, but… but…
But fucking nothing. Over a month of spinning the album has yet been unable to shake the freshness of its feel; Unsettling Whispers feels important, as though birthed at that black pinnacle which every generation of metal makes a pilgrimage to in order to crown the next Celtic Frost, Deathspell Omega, or any other obsidian monarch whose works become essential things ov legend. Given the forward-thinking and multifaceted nature of this malignant gem, I’d begrudgingly classify Gaerea‘s sound as progressive-black; Applying viciously grim traditional shrieks to sinister tremolo picking ov olde and dissonant, modern-age blastery with much more nuance than is customary for either, this sophomore effort displays total mastery of all known generations of black metal while pushing its charred history into the future, and suddenly that future looks a whole lot brighter. Or darker. Perspectives and puns will vary, but it is almost certain that Gaerea have created the kind of album that clones are made of, if you wish to be on the right side of history you need to grab this one pretty much immediately.
With the nightmarish atmospheric sensibilities of Celtic Frost, the pummeling violence of Deathspell Omega, the sheer evil of Gorgoroth and a Behemoth ear for headbanging, Gaerea have gathered the souls of black metals most hallowed ov icons and given them somewhere they can finally move on to in Unsettling Whispers. Riffs, dissonance, ambient lulls and apocalyptic levels of aggression… it’s all here, and for once it feels like it’s moving forward. I have been impressed into a state of sans complaint by Unsettling Whispers, and it is only a deep-seated fear of meeting HMG that kept me from 5-ing what I suspect may prove to be a much-needed catalyst for blackened momentum. If this is Gaerea whispering, I can’t fucking wait to see what will come when this Portuguese enigma starts screaming.