It’s not exactly a secret that I enjoy of deep atmospheric black metal just as much as the next guy deems to be unhealthy, though even I don’t know where my own obsession with the sounds ov misanthropy came from. Maybe it was Maine, maybe it was Northern winter nights. Maybe it was you people; maybe it was me and my staunch opposition to joy that lead me here; whatever the case, it sure felt right to pluck Skyborne Reveries‘ Winter Lights from the promo bin after a bit of… unpleasantness. The captivating cover art, one-man atmospheric black metal tag and imagery-evoking moniker all checked off a line of boxes straight to my blob of heart stuff, and with that, the die was cast. A nice trip back home to recover from grievous injuries sustained in strange lands, what could go wrong?
Turns out, almost fucking nothing. Almost. Angry Metal Disclaimer: if we were going on nothing but my own subjective experience, this thing would be at least a 5.5/5. Winter Lights is nothing shy of Master-bait1 music, a 57-minute mournful serenade of stars delivered with gently blackened poignancy unto the moonlit wilderness. Blending the shimmering ambience of Violet Cold with the ebony splendor of Agalloch, Winter Lights is atmospheric black gold, and though it may not be entirely without fault I am entirely without doubt that this is the best I’ve heard of its kind all year. With Bloodbark having set the personal bar all the way back in January, I would have been content with anything listenable, but I found Winter Lights instead, and it’s only fair that I share the wealth, yo.
It should come as no surprise that Winter Lights is an exercise in mood evoking; the album is far from strictly ambient, but even the most aggressive moments tend to deliver feels rather than riffs. The darkest moments of “The Forgotten” are as charred and violent as anything Drudkh ever didkh, yet the frost-laden tremolo-picked Pillorian blackness of the guitars serves mostly to paint a dimly lit backdrop for the keys to illuminate and bring to life. Don’t get me wrong, tracks such as “Ascending Beyond That August Firmament” and “When Stars Sing” dabble in the delightfully melodic blackened sensibilities of Saor or Mavradoxa, but it’s the Violet Cold iridescence of the keyboard that trvly shines here. The whole album is a moonlit walk in the woods in search of a lonely death, the kind of resplendent sonic sorrow that is both crushing yet comforting and oddly addictive. Above and throughout all of this wonderful woe soars the man responsible for it all, Nathan Churches, whose otherworldly Cormorant shrieks are chock full ov Unreqvited conviction and may just be my new favorite of the genre.
So yeah, I fuckin love Winter Lights, but is it perfect?
Yes. No. First and foremost, there’s a weird timing thing in “Ascending” that never fails to come across as unduly jarring no matter how much I brace myself beforehand. This and the overall absence of anything particularly standout occurring in the rhythm section are literally my only complaints as a listener, but the reviewing lens refuses to turn its focus from that list of namedrops. Saliva-inducing thing ov blackened beauty it may be, but the inability to discuss any attribute of Skyborne Reveries‘ sound without immediately drawing comparisons to X band is a bit unfortunate no matter how you spin it. This dvde is doing trvly beautiful things, but to a certain extent, none of it feels original. Sure, Winter Lights cherry-picked the absolute best ov the blackened best and assembled its scavengery into something list-worthy, but theft is theft and much of what we have here is just shy of that. I’ve heard all this before, this just happens to be the best way that I’ve heard it all so far.
Original, director’s cut, redux, whatever you want to call BloodbarkRûrVioletColdMavradoxa, this was a welcome respite from the rest of the bullshit we called May. AMG ain’t found a way to kill me yet, and though my eyes burn with stinging sweat at the mere thought of another Nancybreathing, it’s nice to know that not every path leads me to nowhere. Oracle of originality it may not be, Winter Lights is nonetheless the atmospheric black metal album I’ve been looking for, probably because of that very fact. Everything atmofiends love to hear is here, and I have zero doubt that Winter Lights will rest comfortably atop many a pretentious pile of opinions come list season.