Astral Necromancy, the third release from American metal band Hoth, has caused me to discard far more words than I will publish about it. Very little of these words concerned the Star Wars theme of the band, which seems to interpret that series as a bunch of myths with archetypal themes that can be put into any context. This makes the whole enterprise more appealing, as there are no forced references and the focus remains on the music instead of hunts for little Easter eggs concerning Jar-Jar. Much of those discarded words concerned the overall record, but startlingly few were about specific instances across its eleven songs. The best I can do is attempt to explain my capricious opinion of Astral Necromancy.
Hoth has changed in the intervening four years since Oathbreaker. More streamlined and less varied is the order of the day, but don’t mistake this for a lack of ideas or a slump; thematic consistency is a virtue here. While nominally black metal, Astral Necromancy is much closer to Wintersun than it is to Marduk. This means that there’s a Euro-power basis to the songs, which are given to grandiosity instead of violence. Dissection is another clear influence, but not in the way they’re often understood. Hoth seem to quite enjoy the underrated Reinkaos (along with newer Gorgoroth, for that matter), but also greatly appreciate Storm of the Light’s Bane. Their reconciliation of the two involves utilizing the riffing style of Reinkaos which is more based around classic metal and hard rock to undergird big tremolo-picked harmonies in the manner of Storm.
The above considered, Hoth isn’t exactly extreme in the black metal sense. Unlike the claustrophobic violence of Marduk or Rage Nucleaire, Hoth creates a vast and open atmosphere not unlike early Ulver. It bears noting that this doesn’t sound like Ulver’s original trilogy, but the music here evokes an atmosphere of exploring a vast, open, cold space like Bergtatt, Kveldssanger, and Nattens Madrigal. Apart from bookend highlights “Vengeance” and “Solitude,” Astral Necromancy sounds almost restrained despite liberal employment of faster drum beats. Take “Passage into Entropy” as an example: it revolves around a single motif repeated seemingly ad infinitum, but it doesn’t grow tiresome whatsoever. Instead, it invites the listener to stay in the atmosphere and look around like one does in a clearing during a walk through the woods. This shouldn’t work as well as it does, as metal tends to be about the riffs first and foremost. Hoth doesn’t create a whole lot of huge ones here, as the riffs devote themselves almost entirely to serving the harmonic theme of each song; the bookend tracks pack the most riffs, but these are outliers.
Astral Necromancy is, then, an atmospheric record in the actual sense of the word. Very little of Hoth’s sound – if any – falls under that classification in the usual sense, but I can’t help but come away with that impression regardless. Oathbreaker had a more individual song-based approach, with a bunch of identifiable riffs and big harmonies. My initial disappointment with Astral Necromancy can be attributed to it not being a bad album but the wrong sort of album, as I obviously wanted more of Oathbreaker. Spending time with Astral Necromancy has proved it a grower, as it creates an atmosphere through traditional metal means instead of cheap shortcuts like white noise, and I find myself wanting to return often. The main issue with this is the lack of any real highlight (save perhaps “Vengeance” or “Solitude”); the best records encourage both a full listen and a la carte track enjoyment for each individual song – think Reign in Blood. Nonetheless, I can recommend Astral Necromancy to those who want an atmosphere that encourages wonder, which in turn encourages joy and appreciation. We can abstract from Hoth’s third record and take it apart riff by riff, finding it in some ways lacking, or we can become enveloped in the atmosphere it creates and enjoy the experience for what it is: a lovely, exploratory piece of music. In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis laments the idea that judgments about the sublime and beautiful are reduced to statements of mere feeling, which in turn is worth very little. I agree with Lewis, and find this exploratory nature refreshing and worthwhile, despite its lack of salient greatness.