If you had said to me that an experimental, one-man shoegaze black metal album would end up as one of the best releases of the year, I would’ve replied with “Who are you and what are you doing in my home?” Incredulity would twist the contours of my face as I struggled to reconcile that such a combination could come together so beautifully, stripping away my defenses and pouring itself into every exposed cavity. Relentless but yielding, sparse yet overwhelming, Magic Night by Violet Cold is an album of contrast, of ripples that gently lap at your feet giving way to towering, lung-filling waves.
The man behind Violet Cold is one Emin Guliyev, a native of Baku, Azerbaijan which boasts the title of the largest city below sea level and is home to the very metal sounding Maiden Tower. Guliyev is one of those obnoxiously talented individuals who not only play a myriad of instruments but much like Devin Townsend, Steven Wilson and Dan Swanö are also responsible for producing, mixing and mastering the music they create. He’s also remarkably prolific with his Bandcamp page listing 36 releases since 2013. Guliyev appears to be of a caste of people that rupture creativity, the type that manages to release an EP and collaborate on a couple of split releases between waking up in the morning and buttering their toast. The danger when musicians release a torrent of work in quick succession is that the music can become shallow and repetitive, a series of half-baked vignettes that would benefit from more time in the oven. Not here. Magic Night leaps from the speakers fully formed with all the craftsmanship and care of an album that has long gestated in the fevered mind of its doting creator.
The “experimental black metal” moniker assigned to this album may conjure up sonic mediations of insanity produced by unhinged acts such as Sigh, Dødheimsgard and Solefald but the reality is an album more focused on mood and subtle texturing than cramming an electric keyboard through an industrial wood chipper and calling it a day. Magic Night’s raison d’être is instead a cold and isolated waltz through melancholy and unrequited longing. Most of the tracks on the album undulate via the push-and-pull dichotomy of hauntingly quiet passages and energized slabs of noise. Clean picking gives way to a tremolo séance on “Everything You Can Imagine Is Real,” a richly evocative album opener bolstered by thunderous kick drums and rippling fills. Title track “Magic Night” leans further into the ebb-and-flow approach, yawing and lurching between breathless blast-beats, rich piano, and high-frequency synths, the latter of which recalls Enslaved’s Below The Lights and From Mars to Sirius by Gojira. The wistful, inward moodiness places much of the music in the post-black metal camp but the sun ‘n’ sandals facade of bands like Deafheaven is replaced with an astrological mourning that binds it closer to Arcturus’ cosmic classic, The Sham Mirrors. There’s a desolate beauty here, a feeling of interstellar remoteness and neglect, a distant planet spurned by an indifferent universe.
At this point you may have noticed no mention has been made of the vocals, and the answer to that is simple: there are none. Aside from the occasional choral exhalation, Magic Night is an instrumental album. Actually, let me rephrase that: Magic Night is an album that also happens to be instrumental. The distinction — although subtle — is important as it’s necessary to draw a line between an album that’s missing vocals and an album that doesn’t need them whatsoever. So confident in its purpose, so naked in its intent that it wasn’t until the album drew to a close that it dawned on me, not a syllable had been uttered over the 55-minute running time. I was shocked. Guliyev’s composition is carefully nuanced, allowing him to verbalize solely with instruments the bittersweet pang of society’s end, whether it be the somnambulant piano on “For Amelie (Polish Lullaby) or the posthumous strings of “Last Day On Earth.”
Magic Night feels like a transmission from a far-off galaxy, the last gasp of a dying civilization who in their final moments sent out this swan song into the cosmos, hoping that those who receive it will celebrate the laughter and tears of a world now silent. May they never be forgotten.