Everyone and their frostbitten mother knows about Norway’s infamous Black Circle, giving birth to church burnings, murder, and of course the second wave of black metal. But did you know that in America, another Black Circle lies waiting in the wings? Yep, the Black Twilight Circle, led by Eduardo “Volahn” Ramírez, is a prolific, young collective based out of Southern California that shares members of various bands within its ranks. Yet despite the member-sharing, the BTC possesses a rich, diverse range of different black metal sounds, from Volahn‘s Watain-ish melodic hymns to Blue Hummingbird on the Left‘s unhinged savagery. Adding to the depth of their blackened waters comes Weigh of the Wolf, the debut album from guitarist, flutist, and vocalist Joseph “Shataan” Alanouf.
Shataan made an appearance on the Black Twilight Circle‘s compilation, Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons, last year with a three-part song, “Caminando del Destino/Desert Smoke/Wells Run Dry,” showing amazing promise with its Mexican-American influences and lilting flute melodies. Thankfully, the flute returns triumphantly on Weigh of the Wolf. “Leave Behind” begins with a beautiful flute melody and somber riffing before drummer Murdunbad pummels away, instilling a ritualistic pagan feel. Shataan’s riffing and flute playing are top-notch, and his hissing is both creepy and yet soothing all at once. Volahn performs some incredible melodic runs on bass, revealing himself to be a capable bassist as well as a guitarist in his own band. While people rightfully associate black metal with cold, bleak soundscapes, Weigh of the Wolf produces the vibe of being in the hot desert sun, baking in its warmth while maddening visions fill your head. Promising.
And musically, this is a fairly solid album, but there’s a bit of a problem. Shataan very rarely uses his hissing and whispering on here, and instead he utilizes a cleaner, almost howling singing voice. On Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons, they fit the vibe quite well, but on here, they’re… not good. He relies on the descending howl voice in every single song on here (save for the aforementioned “Leave Behind” and instrumental “Inst. in E Minor”), and instead of bringing me into their colorful world, they sound like someone went up from behind Shataan and pushed him hard off of a cliff as he’s singing, on each line, for a full thirty minutes. I already tired of hearing them after “Scorn at Heart,” and that’s the first song on here.
And it’s frustrating that that aspect of Weigh of the Wolf is keeping me from enjoying the album, because musically it’s quite good. “Stand Apart” contains a cool whistling part in the beginning that adds to the song’s heady backdrop. “Chamber” feels almost early Opethian in terms of riff construction and atmosphere. “Eulogy” is absolutely savage, and somber closer “Night Comes Along” finally shows Shataan singing with a decent, though not great, voice. But his descending howling vocals kill any and all momentum on Weigh of the Wolf. They’re over-used, and in the case of “Chamber,” quite bad. Strangely enough, the production, despite lacking dynamics and mixed somewhat loudly, remarkably allows breathing space and clarity for the flute. Sadly, the guitars took a back seat, while the drums feel a bit muffled.
I wanted to love Weigh of the Wolf, as it’s exactly the swift kick in the balls that black metal desperately needs. Like Nechochwen before them, the BTC is purposely fucking with convention, and I’m happy to see some new blood and fresh ideas being injected into a tired sound. I just wish Weigh of the Wolf was a better album vocally, as though Shataan the vocalist may be lacking, Shataan the guitarist and flutist, and Shataan the band, is on to something. Maybe on the next go-around.