Throughout the ages, many are the writers of these ancient halls who have remarked upon metalcore bands whose promotional materials lurk deep within that bogs of our storage facility masquerading as something else altogether. Many are those who have excitedly snatched up and absconded with a rare unsupervised melodeath promo only to realize, to their endless despair, that the joke is on them. As a relative newcomer, I knew to beware of this phenomenon, but I didn’t count on the surprising number of ambient bands whose promotional teams might seek to do the same thing with black metal. You’d think I’d have learned by now – Vesperith’s self-titled debut marks the fourth time I’ve sat down to sample a not-black metal “black metal” album. Heavily ambient and looking to invade the listener’s mind through subtle emotional catharsis, this Finnish solo project from Sariina Tani still manages to stand out from what I’ve heard before.
Granted, I picked up Vesperith hoping for black metal; I wanted my skull pounded with drums and my mind scorched with the burning lash of furious shrieks. And I did get that; there are genuine moments of promising black metal waiting amidst a sea of astral void. “Fractal Flesh” lulls the listener into a false sense of tranquility before Tani’s beautiful calls to nothingness erupt into that burning lash of fury I was talking about earlier. Blast beats emerge from the mists, and the peace is suddenly broken. So that the tag on the album isn’t a lie by any stretch; Tani and Vesperith are more than capable of ear-melting black metal goodness. The concluding half of “Quintessence” takes a full song’s worth of subtle buildup before it lets its black metal show, and when it does, the combination of beautiful astral ambience and Tani’s shrieks are worth the wait.
Still, for the most part, this is an album that is far more ambience than metal, and relies heavily on Tani’s clean singing voice, rather than shrieks. Bells, synths, and the occasional drum fills support Tani’s ethereal singing as she forms the atmospheres and emotional movements that form the majority of the album. The six tracks that make up Vesperith are less “songs” and more “movements,” choosing a particular emotional resonance and working it as subtly and movingly as possible. No hooks, no real song structure, just… feeling. Ambience. It’s peaceful, and easy to wander around and get lost in. It isn’t exciting or commanding, but it’s not bad by any means.
According to the promotional material sent over with the album, Vesperith “mirror[s] the duality of light and darkness,” and it is in maintaining this balance that I feel the album struggles. As I mentioned earlier, Vesperith is primarily an ambient album, but the inclusion of black metal passages is an important element of the sound. When they appear, however, there’s a sense of being “taped on,” rather than having a natural flow. In “Fractal Flesh,” the drumming in particular has a sense of just appearing partway through the track, while “Quintessence” maintains a thick fog of ambience that rests above the black metal in the mix. It’s a bit disjointed, and not nearly as impactful as a shift from peaceful ambience to punishing blast beats should be.
So I’m torn. Despite my feeling that Vesperith does not wholly succeed in expressing its stated intention, Tani’s astral ambiences are more moving to me than any music of this type that I’ve been tricked into reviewing this year. I can’t help but feel a disconnect between myself and the music, just as I can’t help but sense a disconnect between the two sides of the music itself. This makes it a tough album to recommend. I will say this, however – making me appreciate subtle, formless, ambient music is not an easy feat. I can’t say I won’t be returning to this one, so I daresay I’ll have to keep an eye on Sariina Tani and Vesperith from now on. As I see it, the next output could easily be any one of three distinct musical directions, and I’m a bit eager to discover which it will be.