Malist – Karst Relict Review

Like distant thunder, the world of atmospheric black metal is simultaneously a comfort and a terror. I’ve been craving new atmospheric music lately. Thinking back, my two most recent forays into its claws have been the most recent offerings by Old Growth and Winterfylleth. Good enough albums, but neither really grabbed me the way I’ve been hoping for. Whether because of too much atmosphere, not enough variety, or just an altogether lack of menace or edge, atmospheric black metal of this particular vein was not all that good to me in 2020. So when I encountered Karst Relict, the third full-length in as many years from Malist, the solo project of one Ovfrost (Bewailer), I was cautiously optimistic – they haven’t let this site down yet, and the album sounded, on paper, like exactly what I was looking for.

Probably the most important thing to tell you about Karst Relict straightaway is that it’s very much a multifaceted album. If you’re concerned that I’m lobbing another hazy, ill-defined, non-heavy “atmospheric ‘black metal’” record at you, well, you can think again. Every song on Karst Relict showcases a different side of Malist. Sometimes this means intensity (“Satellite”), sometimes woe (“Lifeless Ease of Nonbeing”), occasionally energetic (“Timeless Torch”), but always bleak, always blanketed with sorrow, and never sticking around in one place too long. It’s actually remarkable how much variance Malist manages to fit on one forty-six minute record. Say what you will about atmospheric tropes, but this is not a boring album by any stretch.

Of course, atmosphere is an important part of atmospheric black metal, but you know what else is important? That’s right, black metal, point for you. Fortunately, Malist knows how to write good black metal. Karst Relict stands solidly upon a foundation of inventive riffs, leads, arpeggios, and more riffs. The aforementioned “Satellite,” my personal highlight of the album, thunders to life on a foundation of tragic, wailing tremolos before slowing down and amping up the atmosphere for the chorus. “Cthonic Trinity” opens with a slower, more doom-laden approach to atmoblack, towering over the listener and smothering them before exploding into an energetic, upbeat array of seriously fine black metal. Occasionally, Malist does take the atmosphere a bit far – “A Way Through Limbo” lacks the peaks and valleys that make the rest of the album so interesting. Still, it’s tough to be too hard on them, because, again – multifaceted approach with consistently good results. I could comment, for example, that “Descent Into Ruin” feels oddly placed so near the end of the album, but it’s also a beautiful interlude, with gorgeous acoustic elements and a level of bleak melancholy that I love in my metal. So I still finish each spin of the album feeling satisfaction and woe (but in a good way).

This far into my review, I feel that it’s missing something, because Karst Relict is perhaps more easily defined by the feeling of the music over its physical components. Fortunately, the album boasts an outstanding production job as well, significantly cleaner than previous releases. Ovfrost’s baleful shrieks lead the charge at the forefront of crystal-clear, sharp guitars that remind of recent Arctos. This album has such a great sound and imposes such an overwhelming sense of bleak malice, that even the tracks I’m not in love with work well as part of the whole. Karst Relict is well-put-together, sounds great, and feels like an honest window for the eyes of its creator.

I love that that Malist is a solo project, because I don’t really expect this level of consistency or cohesiveness from singular artist releases. And yet, here stands the apparently indomitable Ovfrost, his third release, with scarcely a break in-between records, still going strong. Karst Relict takes some of the most interesting tropes black metal has to offer and lights them ablaze with atmospheric goodness. Variety, intensity, anger, hopelessness – what’s not to like? Malist has hereby converted me into a fan. While the trilogy of Karst Realm may be over, I hope that Malist lives on, ideally with another release of this caliber already on the distant horizon.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Northern Silence Productions
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 12th, 2021

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