Welcome to the wild hunt. We’ll be venturing deep into the twisted, intestinal forests of the Afterdream: a withered, multi-dimensional landscape suffused with snarling spirits that froth forth a vitriolic seed. If we survive, we’ll venture into the blackened bowels and through to the death-grip of the Afterdream’s thumping heart. Then we’ll progress to the warped solitude of the landscape’s pernicious soul. There, at the core, the hunt for the promiscuous ‘excellent’ album begins. Here, the soulful grip of the progressive clashes with the chaotic-singe of blackened death-metal. Goliaths clash. Their sparks are to be savored by us, the hunters. The residue and remnants of the clash are to be bottled, taken back to land, and consumed in musical form. What you’ll hear from this Californian two-piece is a second-album – Afterdream of the Reveller – that has been retrieved and deciphered from the obfuscated carnage at the core of the wild hunt so that you, a mere human, may hear it.
Afterdream of the Reveller is a blackened riff-fest that – like a malfunctioning, ever-running roller-coaster – explodes from minute-one with nauseating combustibility. Progressive black-metal is at its core, as are darker death hues, as are flecks and traces of doom too. This is a Frankenstein’s monster of an album, one that acts and moves with unconventionality. Around every corner – or riff – is a transition to a riff-pattern not quite of the norm. That’s not to say the album’s uneven, rickety and messy. In fact, there’s an organic togetherness here that’s mightily impressive. For a band to amalgamate so many riffs and snippets into a synchronised whole is impressive. Opener “At Once the Vision and the Seer” is possibly the most excellent song on the album. Following a haunting piano opening, the album storms into being, surging and pounding forth with tangled strings of riffs and thundering with full-bodied, intense drumming. The fluidity of the transitions ties things together nicely and there’s a rich, epic quality to the high-pitched, rising tremolos that match the grand spiritual themes that the band try to espouse. There’s not just grandiosity and fancy-pants moments here though. Wild Hunt are more than satisfied to play a chaotic, ugly black-metal within the doldrums of songs. These moments, apparent most obviously in the opening track and songs like “Odious Gamble,” work very well.
Songs regularly break down, slow-down or stop all together in favour for moments of captivating ambient noise. Elsewhere, clean vocal bursts – brief and never overwhelming – dwell deep within the foggy production like a wispy subterranean incantation. These serve the music well, as do the transitions into doomier territories. “The Last Saeculum,” for example, opens with soft Opethian acoustics, moves into a sensual doom section reminiscent of a slower Obsequiae, and snakes its way into a winding melodic black metal akin to Akercocke. Sometimes the border to funeral-doom is traversed too, but never for overly long – trumpets and luscious length riffs waiver through “The Last Saeculum” and the penultimate track “Nest of Flames” could confidently nestle itself amongst the songs on Mournful Congregation‘s excellent recent release.
Furious blackened-flavoured extreme metal is firmly at the reins here though. Wild Hunt‘s brand of extreme metal is comparable to the cryptic wanderings of The Ruins of Beverast, Leviathan and Krallice. Experimental touches pervade the album, enhancing the enchanting weight of the riffs nicely, but the band never venture too deeply into the sort of sounds the above mentioned bands are most famous for. Wild Hunt pick and take with tact, balancing their influences and constructing their music with a more riff-based centrality. This is most clear in the epic nine-minute “Choir of a Greater Sea,” a song that embodies the band’s skill at assimilating various features smoothly.
This is not to say that everything is great. The dissonant closer “Palingenesia” ruptures from the ashes of “Nest of Flames” too abruptly, feeling quite forced. Mid-album interlude “Desiderium” sucks a small amount of life from the album too, and some tracks would benefit from a bit of trimming. The production of the record is muddy and occasionally unclear. It’s got a dense, cloying feel that muddies and even somewhat destroys the power of the cleaner moments of the album. The drums are particularly heavy, often overly loud and manic. This occasionally upsets the balance of songs. Guitars could be placed more to the fore and vocals given much more clarity. These are minor, some may say negligible, things but even the smallest of changes can make or break an album, especially when it comes to longevity and repeat listens.
Wild Hunt have produced an album on the verge of being great, but for me they’re not quite there. There are more than a few fantastic moments and songs here, but as a whole there’s fat to drop and parts to hone. Still, this is a very very good second album that features almost all the aspects of extreme metal that I love.