Vital Spirit – Still As the Night, Cold As the Wind Review

Back in 2020, around the time Wayfarer were turning heads with their black metal of the Old West on A Romance With Violence, I discovered an EP seemingly out of nowhere by a Canadian two piece who, in my humble opinion, one-upped that admittedly good album. From the Navajo sand painting cover art to the Ennio Morricone spaghetti western passages to the lyrical focus on pre-colonial Americas, Vital Spirit threw their hat into that incredibly small ring with their Coloradan brethren with In The Faith That Looks Through Death. Consisting of Kyle Tavares and Israel Langlais, both of crusty meloblack band and AMG darlings Wormwitch, Vital Spirit continue their self described “saccharine black metal of the West” on their debut full-length Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind. Pulling inspiration from the desert landscapes of the American Southwest, brutal chapters of the American Indian Wars and musical touchstones as diverse as Morricone, classic country and Dissection, these Canucks couldn’t have crafted a more perfect Cherd trap if they tried.

If you hear this description and fear some kind of country album with tremolos, you can relax. Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind is first and foremost a black metal record. There are no clean vocals to be seen from here to the western horizon, and there’s an aggressive edge to this record that elevates it beyond your usual folk/black fare. Vital Spirit can rage with a ramshackle fury, but they can turn on a dime to warm, melodic riffs as saturated as the setting sun reflected on desert stone. Elements of folk Americana are present throughout the album, at times as punctuation and at times as the primary focus. The band cite Wovenhand as an influence, and guys, I get it. I’m a huge D. E. E. fan too, but when those clean passages hit at the end of “Blood and Smoke” or throughout “Saccharine Sky,” what I actually hear are the Southwest stylings of Calexico, and that is far from a bad thing.

Guitarist/vocalist Tavares has stated he wants to bring the character of those cleaner folk/Western passages directly into the metal riffs, and frankly he’s done a bang-up job. Bits of twang surface here and there, but it never runs against the grain of the larger composition. More impressive is how, in a different style, the principle riff on the second half of “Bad Hand” would be a standout moment in any 70s Western soundtrack. Same goes for the melodic guitar lines that weave through the otherwise scorching mouth punch that is “Withering Fire.” Vital Spirit excel at this balancing act of vitriolic aggression and dusty atmosphere. First single “Dawn of Liberty” shows this in spades, with a mid-song martial drum beat and a solemn, Morricone-y guitar line dropping away to an affecting passage of chirping night insects just before a searing blast beat and triumphant guitar solo.

Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind is a concept album in much more than aesthetics. All songs but the instrumental “Saccharine Sky” deal with some event of the long war waged on indigenous nations by the nascent United States government. Musically, the songs often enforce the lyrical themes, as on “White Eyes.” Recounting the Bascom Affair, a boiling over of hostilities between the Apache and colonizing ranchers in the Arizona Territory that resulted in quid pro quo kidnappings, torture and execution, the song is a white knuckle sprint through a briar patch of thorny guitars and bellicose drumming with just the slightest edge of sad melody. “The Long Walk,” with its more measured tempo and at times nearly psychedelic mood, recounts one of the forced relocations of people from ancestral homes, this time the Long Walk of the Navajo in 1864, an attempted ethnic cleansing that resulted in over 200 deaths. Tavares has said, in an interview with Rez Metal Podcast, that it’s not his intention to preach and that he’s just recounting known history. That said, he also sees the name Vital Spirit as a direct nod to the endurance of pre-colonial cultures of the Americas. If you pay attention to the black metal underground, you may notice this coinciding with a seeming groundswell of Native perspectives entering the scene.

Kyle Tavares and Israel Langlais have crafted a stunning black metal album with a laser-focused handle on how to incorporate folk elements successfully. If you’ve read my previous reviews, you’ll know I have a predilection for exactly the kind of dish Vital Spirit serves, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Still as the Night, Cold as the Wind ends up on far more year-end lists than just my own.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hidden Tribe
Releases Worldwide: May 6th, 2022

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