Twenty-seventeen’s tide of incredible black metal releases has considerably waned in 2018, and thank fucking Christ for that. While hardly anything excites me as much as a well-executed black metal record, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. This year’s stagnated schedule of blackened goodness has allowed me considerable breathing room to delve into new metal in several genres, but it offers an even greater boon for an act like Canada’s Paths. If In Lands Thought Lost had dropped last year, it may have been immediately lost as another drop in the blackened flood, but as of its release window, it comes across as a curious little record that offers a somewhat unique experience. Jack of all trades and master of some, In Lands Once Lost is a neat overview of the current state of black metal as a whole. It doesn’t always work, but it is regularly entertaining nonetheless.
Sole member Michael Taylor’s approach to crafting long-form black metal is fairly standard practice in the current genre climate: utilize a choice number of recurring riffs for the songs’ first three quarters, building towards a grandiose, emotionally satisfying climax. What helps Paths stand apart in this predictable method of track composition is the tools of construction. Though billed primarily as “atmospheric black metal”, the claustrophobic melodies often remind me of something closer to the depressive end of the spectrum, such as Manetheren. The atmosphere conveyed through the liberal application of synths, conversely, sound almost cosmic in their persistent grandeur. These dueling philosophies, anchored by the occasional pivot into traditional second wave grimness, make for a uniquely textured overarching sound, and the aforementioned bombastic climaxes inject further melodic complexity with bittersweet, nostalgic themes that define controversial artists like Ghost Bath or Astronoid. If this all sounds intriguing, that’s because it is, especially on initial exposure.
I emphasize the impact of my first few spins of ILTL because, as spellbinding as many moments remain after several listens, niggling problems begin to seep into the listening experience after the honeymoon phase. While a good deal of tonal variety is present, some riffs come across as derivative or uninteresting, a problem exacerbated by watery guitar tones that lack the blistering, rapid-fire edge of the best sounding atmo-black records. The snare drum derives the music of a portion of its intended impact as well, as its distinct “bonk” effect is at odds with the music’s reverent atmosphere. The work behind the kit, on the other hand, makes for one of Paths’ major selling points. Panopticon‘s Austin Lunn handles drums duties here and, if I do say myself, plays the absolute fuck out of them. His abundance of kinetic death metal fills and regular pattern shake-ups lend ILTL a welcome aggressive edge, and make him the record’s defining feature.
Strangely, Lunn’s distinct rhythmic personality falls to the wayside on the record’s last track, “South Ever South,” an overlong, meandering piece that closes the record in a fashion devoid of energy and catharsis. It’s not a bad track, per se, but it pales when stacked against ILTL‘s best bits. The best of the best in this instance is “Creaking Boughs,” the third track of five total, which introduces itself with an ominous, slow-picked chord that later blossoms into the record’s strongest climax. Even here, though, some of the lead guitar performances feel sloppy. These methodical guitar lines add welcome melodic overtures to the proceedings, yet their execution always feels a bit slapdash, with each pluck of the strings ever so slightly rushing ahead of the rhythm section. It’s not entirely distracting, but with such strong kitwork at play, it’s undoubtedly noticeable.
At the end of its forty-six minutes, In Lands Thought Lost is a record that is at once unique and one that I have heard many, many times before. Its many components, gathered from across the black metal spectrum, have been here assembled in a new way that ultimately feels fresh. In this way, Paths has offered a nice little diversion from the year’s heavy hitters that offers a little bit of everything from the current state of black metal, one that should make for engrossing (if not particularly exciting) listening as a brisk backdrop to the looming winter months.