Ah, black metal. What storied history, what grimly grand aspirations of defiance, what glorious panda men frolicking in snowy forests! What once began as church burnings and murder and a big “fuck you” to the status quo has expanded into countless internet memes and as many sub-sub-subgenres as there are bands. From the lo-fi quality and the blasphemous shrieks, to enough broken picks per tremolo and blastbeats per minute to make a ladies’ Bible study group collectively gasp, it’s the sound of defiance and harshness. However, it toes a delicate line between shock and schlock1, and Athens, Georgia, one-man satanic black metal act Lothric hopes to score a win for the home team with his debut LP Adversarial Light.
Simply glancing at the cover, painstakingly inspired by Darkthrone and Goatmoon, you can smell the second-wave black metal worship from a mile away. The grainy black and white photo complete with corpse-painted angry face, cloaks, and occult hand signals, taking place in a forest no doubt, reveals all you basically need to know: reverb-laden shrieked vocals atop tremolo riffs galore, with blastbeats and doomy plods. So, while Lothric holds very few tricks up his sleeve for those familiar with the scene, Adversarial Light remains a listenable debut regardless.
If you were expecting anything beyond Darkthrone or Taake mimicry with tributes to Dissection, prepare to be disappointed, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. In truth, Adversarial Light is refreshing in its simplicity and straightforwardness in a black metal world obsessed with the latest trends. Tracks “The Sanctity of Fire” and “Possessed by Strength” channel Inquisition2 to maximize the balance between frostbitten sharpness and deathy heft; there are moments of excellent mixing, particularly in closer “True Death” or highlight “My Temple of Flesh and Worms,” in which chaotic and subtly melodic riffs spiral atop complementary plods, which add a jolt of flavor. “Crown of the Morning Star” is the best track of the batch, mixing it up in its nearly folky 6/8 time signature and focusing on layered rhythms—it elevates it from standard to solid. As a whole, Lothric’s sound is firmly grounded in its humility and straightforwardness. While it has little value other than competent second-wave worship, it is a refreshingly straightforward in a saturated era of blackgaze and atmospherics.
While Lothric hits several of the right notes in Adversarial Light, it is hindered significantly by its copyist sound and lack of true identity. This is Norwegian-style satanic black metal. Whoop-de-doo. As such, there is little variety and nothing to distinguish from the unholy canon of second-wave black metal. Nadir tracks like “Vampiric Ascension” and “Eternal Northern Call” feel too Les Légions Noires-esque (think Mütiilation or Vlad Tepes), while even the best tracks channel early Darkthrone and Immortal to an excessive degree, and that leaves us floundering. Ultimately, while Lothric does not do anything wrong per say, Adversarial Light is too tame and inoffensive in light3 of the scene’s best. I get that it is impossible to reach the heights of black metal’s upper echelon, but his songwriting feels too copied and pasted to make an impact alone.
I suppose to some extent, Lothric‘s dilemma reflects the general plight of contemporary black metal: if artists dabble excessively in experimentation and hipster trends, they are dismissed as posers and bandwagoners; meanwhile, if they try to emulate black metal’s kvlt history in blasphemous nostalgia, it’s written off as cheap imitation. Ultimately, this album is solid and fun, although sadly limited to the most committed fans of Norwegian-style black metal. Adversarial Light is a perplexing beast, refreshing in its simplicity but frustrating in its epigonic quality. A solid performance, but our own blackened jadedness keeps it in the cursed limbo between shock and schlock.