Ov all the cruel ironies in this angry metal world, black metal’s oversaturated state, at this point presumably mere days from breaching mainstream radio status, is likely the one that yanks my unicorn the most. That the brave new musical world discovered by such wanderers as Burzum, Mayhem, and Bathory would be further explored and defiled in time was never a question, yet the rampant proliferation of new obsidian acts we find ourselves plagued with is less akin to expansion than to… well, frankly, a fucking plague. With its subterranean cradle far behind, black metal now stands atop the dreaded Mount Basic, perfectly poised to plummet to a painfully passe place of palatable paint-by-nvmbers predictability. If you can’t already see where this is heading, then congratulations, yo: you’re the first person ever to be surprised by Chile’s Sol Sistere.
Before we get too far, I should make it clear that I don’t hate Cold Extinguished Light. Taken strictly at face value and disregarding all the other noteworthy black metal that’s come and gone, Cold Extinguished Light is a thoroughly enjoyable, vulgar display of black metal power, and had I stumbled across it during my innocent pre-Hall days I probably would have littered MySpace with its praises until Tom Himself blocked me. Harsh vocals effortlessly fly from dirgeful growling to harrowing shrieks like a seasoned bat out ov Hell, aptly matched by the band in sinister synthesis. Drums alternate between menacing tribal pounding and sheer pummeling chaos, guitars dole out downtuned dissonance and frigid tremolo blasts aplenty, and all seems right with the world: just another day in Kvltsville…
…and therein lies the album’s greatest weakness: Cold Extinguished Light is largely just another black metal album, a competent recital of the genre’s history, no more or less. The promo material I received drew comparisons to Emperor, but while there’s a certain similar sense of grandiosity to Sol Sistere‘s compositional style, Cold Extinguished Light utterly pales in comparison to the genre-defying reaches made by Anthems to the Welken at Dawn, or even the lesser magnificence of IX Equilibrium. Burzum and Dissection are the foremost obvious muses to Sol Sistere‘s dark art, among others, and the Chileans are faithful to their teachings to a fault. Cold Extinguished Light essentially serves as a sonic time capsule ov the aforementioned forefathers’ heydays, albeit with admittedly superior production. At first blush, this hardly seems disadvantageous, yet when tossed into a playlist of like-minded contemporaries such as Malist, Wallfahrer, and Wiegedood these tracks head straight to the background and dissolve into a toothless blur of innocuity.
In a rather unnerving experiment, I actually pitted this album against such a playlist: I was shaken and somewhat disheartened to find that not only did I frequently mistake any given Sol Sistere track for that ov another band, I also often found myself slightly struggling to accurately distinguish several bands with whom I was already quite familiar. I absolvtely fvcking refvse to believe that black metal is dead, but I cannot deny that it’s reached a level of saturation verging on utter stagnation. Sure, bands like Sol Sistere, Uada and whatever NYP one-man Bandcamp project you’re currently cradling have an excellent grasp on what works in black metal, but is that really enough? This genre ov edgelords has practically become a walking participation trophy, tremolo picking and a foreboding atmosphere seem to be all that’s asked ov the genre anymore and Cold Extinguished Light brings me back to black metal’s pioneer days in the most painful day possible: I can’t go home again, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
In the end, it doesn’t even matter what rating I attribute here. Cold Extinguished Light sounds great, but only because it sounds like everything that’s come before it. It has mastered the lessons ov the genre, but it refuses to teach us anything new. There is no definite, distinct Sol Sistere sound, and that’s apparently enough for the world these days but it’s not enough for me. I have about a million versions of this album already, and if you’re a black metal fan then you do, too. If you feel like you need more ov the same, have at it. I, however, feel as though I am witnessing the great cold death ov my favorite genre, and I find little pleasure in Cold Extinguished Light‘s familiar feel as it whispers to me of impending extinction. My faith is hardly dead, but I’m beginning to believe that the age ov blackened miracles and innovation is now firmly behind us, Jørn help us all.