Malist – As I Become Darkness Review

My very limited experience with Russian black metal has been incredibly positive. So far only extending to the utterly brilliant Second to Sun, and offshoot Grima, beyond that to the gorgeous post-melodicism of Рожь (Rye), and—as I realized after feeling the name sounded familiar, Malist’s previous album Karst Relict. That record was a decent but not outstanding piece of atmospheric black metal (which would probably explain its having faded in my memory). This latest outing, As I Become Darkness, mainly follows in its predecessor’s footsteps in terms of quality, though Malist has now largely dropped pretensions to atmosphere. As Twelve—who rescinded reviewing rights after a couple of listens—informed me, it is essentially “atmospheric black metal, without the atmosphere.” In plain English, it’s basically a straightforward second-wave black metal album, with better production.

As I Become Darkness is solidly executed, but is missing something that makes it really stand out. Fast-paced, tremolo-led passages that sound vaguely familiar bleed into mid-tempo marches of appropriately frosty riffery. Malist do, at points, nail the neo-second-wave energy with all its vim and vigor, as opener “Legions” and the Uada-esque bounce of “March of the Defilers” most enthusiastically demonstrate. But it’s when they step out of the pattern that the music has the most personality and feels the strongest. The flirtations with disso-death clanging chords (“The Death Bell,” “One with the Void”) add some intrigue and malice. Recalls to a more ambient style through gentle, sometimes folky plucking (“Misanthropic Bliss,” “Existence in Ruin,” “Departure”) bring depth, space, and calm. And on the rare occasions when atmosphere and fury combine, you get the best cuts. “The Death Bell” moves through its dissonant chords, blistering blastbeats, strummed, echoing mid-section, and explosive finale with real feeling amplified by subtle synth lines. “Existence in Ruin” also carries a similarly nuanced kind of depth in its audible bass strums and cascading late melodies. At points, the music is even a little reminiscent of Selbst, although with more of an angry than a despairing tone.

These highlights are nonetheless not enough to pull the record up above the level of ‘decent,’ nor to distract from less palatable elements. In many ways, these better sections make it more frustrating. Instrumental “Departure” is undeniably beautiful, and one wonders whether that mournful guitar could have made more of an appearance elsewhere. The well-blended and energetic black metal here speaks of great talent, but there’s an odd unmemorability, and a lingering sense that there’s something missing. There is also rather more spoken word across this record than myself and likely many others would prefer. It’s bearable, even appropriately dramatic, in the small doses of snarls on “The Death Bell.” But often feel needless (“March of the Defilers,” “Existence in Ruin,”) and cross into cringe territory on “Misanthropic Bliss.” 

Whatever gripes the listener might have, one has to commend lead member Ovfrost for their passionate work ethic. This is now album number four in the same number of years, and the fact that it’s not bad is a testament to talent. The spoken word isn’t grating enough to actually spoil the music, and the forty-or-so minutes rushes by pretty quickly. The guitars sound good, the drumming is energetic, and the vocals cut a good balance between growl and throaty shriek. As I alluded to previously, this borrows from the better style of black metal production. The melodies are audible and the vocals are in just the right place. Overall, there is nothing overly objectionable about it. There just aren’t enough actively compelling moments to push it over the line. 

If you’re fan of Malist’s previous work, or indeed this style of black metal generally, As I Become Darkness provides enough to enjoy. Just malicious enough to have a bit of bite, but mellow enough to be genuinely pleasant. Not all black metal needs to turn the genre on its head, and Malist shows this more straightforward style can be done pretty well.


Rating: Good
DR:
6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: 
Northern Silence Productions
Websites:
malist.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/malistband
Releases Worldwide:
November 11th, 2022

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