Does environment inform creation? We know that art is often wrought in the forge of circumstance but beyond the personal biases, trials and tribulations of everyday life, can the very climate we live in serve as a catalytic muse? Louisiana’s turgid humidity spawned swampy sludge metal and the pallid, frozen wastes of Scandinavia formed the backdrop against which black metal performs its danse macabre. It’s the latter’s frigid fingers that grip Magna Adversia, the latest release by Patria. But rather than hailing from Norway or Sweden, the band inhabits the mountainous south of Brazil. When influenced by a non-indigenous culture, artists tend to either duplicate it wholesale (whether due to idolatry or to prove they’re just as capable) or they weave their tapestry with threads pulled from their native surroundings. Is Magna Adversia a predictable fabrication of the genre free from any local stimuli or is there a healthy dose of Brazilian color blended into the black metal palette?
Despite being six albums deep into their career the band’s name was one I hadn’t chanced upon prior but Patria’s reputation seems to precede them as Magna Adversia boasts production duties from Borknagar’s Øystein G. Brun and features Asgeir Mickelson (Borknagar, Ihsahn, Spiral Architect) behind the drum kit. With a wealth of experience in their back-pocket and industry veterans lining up to lend a hand, Patria certainly set listener expectations high with Magna Adversia but the album ingratiated itself in such a way that those expectations were convincingly met, if not wildly exceeded.
The album opens with “Infidels” and it quickly establishes itself as a keeper, tastefully intertwining memorable riffs, delicate lead work and a heady dose of double-kick. The complex song structures backed by a smattering of atmospheric synths places the music in the symphonic black metal category but mercifully rebuffs the overindulgent excess found in other bands like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth. Pleasingly there’s a real focus on composition and songwriting over the usual genre tropes of blanket misanthropy and feeble musicianship disguised as subversive kvlt-ness. That’s not to say that Magna Adversia doesn’t have its moments of white-hot tremolos and manic blast-beats but it’s balanced by controlled pacing that varies the tempo in service of building dense songs latticed by layers of guitar, drum fills and rousing keys. Some of these flourishes manifest at the macro, like the opening to “Now I Bleed” which employs a full brass section that could be mistaken for the soundtrack to a thriller movie from the 70s, to the micro like the stereo panning effects applied to the background vocals on “Heartless.”
One element that stood out throughout my listening was the feeling of consistency, almost as if Patria created a modular master track devised in such a way that the songs could be built by re configuring and reassembling the alpha into a panoply of different tracks. This leads to Magna Adversia have a strong unifying sound as opposed to a series of disparate elements arbitrarily stitched together. The downside to this approach is that you end up with music that – although not repetitive – includes scarcely any genuine surprises, outside of a few notable examples. One of these is the penultimate track “Porcelain Idols” which oozes with atmosphere, opening with saturated synths and a programmed industrial drum beat. From there the song explodes into some of the best enmeshing of lead guitar and razor sharp riffs you’ll find this side of Emperor and UADA. Closer “Magna Adversia” departs with clean picking and richly sorrowful keys reminiscent of The Red King; a deeply poignant but subdued way to end the album but not the sort of thing one expects from a title-track. These tracks are stunning but they wouldn’t stand out as much if the rest of the album was inventive rather than simply reliable.
Patria have delivered a memorable and satisfying record with Magna Adversia, one that I see myself returning to throughout the year when I’m in need of a darkly romantic black metal fix. Patria seem content with carving out music commensurate with their peers, and they do it very well. It would have been nice to hear some unique and inventive takes on the genre as filtered through their own cultural prism but it’s hard to be too vexed when the end result is as solid as it is here.