Now that the year is finally over, let’s look back on the embarrassment of riches that has been black metal in 2019. With so many incredible albums to pick from it’s hard to…wait, FUCK ME IT’S STILL JUNE?! How have we had so many exceptional albums from what is supposedly an overstuffed, tired genre in just six months? By my count, we’ve awarded a 3.5 or higher to 43 albums that feature black metal as the primary genre over the last 26 weeks, and that’s just albums we’ve covered at AMG & Sons LLC. Acts like Misþyrming, Cénotaphe and Krzysztof Drabikowski, among others, have also released rock solid entries in what will henceforth be called The Great Year ov Blackened Dark Blacky Blackness. Right about here is where I’d normally play coy and be all “but can Yellow Eyes distinguish themselves in such a distinguished year?” I’ll be up front with you, Rare Field Ceiling, the NY band’s fifth full-length in their decade long career, is right up there with the best black metal releases of 2019.
If you’re familiar with the last couple of Yellow Eyes albums, Rare Field Ceiling does little to change up the formula. These New Yorkers still play dense black metal that is equal parts melody and dissonance in compositions that wend and wind and double back on themselves. This outing pushes the dissonance slightly more forward than on 2017’s excellent Immersion Trench Reverie, and while it also includes similar ethereal song transitions, the familiar reek-reeking of frogs is absent this time. At six songs and right around 45 minutes, each track has enough room to take you on a journey through buzzing riffscapes that resist easy memorization, thus maintaining rewarding surprises while neural pathways are slowly acclimated over repeat listens. In this way, Rare Field Ceiling reminds me strongly of Blut Aus Nord‘s Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry which is similarly dense while rarely repeating a riff more than once.
This is the second review I’ve penned this year for an album involving drummer M. Rekevics, with the first being Vanum‘s outstanding Ageless Fire. Like that album, Rare Field Ceiling is a straight up, epic minded black metal affair with no forays into other genres. The difference between the two is how “epic” is interpreted. Where Ageless Fire was all windswept peaks and the heat of battle, Rare Field Ceiling is more like the sublime complexity of nature. Songs like fantastic opener “Warmth Trance Reversal” and the knotted “Nutrient Painting” start out with standard blast beats and riffs that deceptively promise hum-ability, but each goes through cycles of entropy and re-growth that follow their own logic. “Rare Field Ceiling” starts out with an almost punk-like, simple drum line joined by a chiming guitar to form a seemingly solid rhythm, but it collapses completely a minute in before emerging from its slump in a series of stuttering gallops. Throughout the album, W. Skarstad’s vocals sit in the middle-ground of the mix, always audible but crowded and obscured by other sounds, as if he’s constantly shouting into a storm.
As mentioned above, Rare Field Ceiling follows the band’s previous template by featuring odd, ethereal transitions between songs. Wisely, Yellow Eyes don’t make these separate tracks, which could slow the album’s momentum. Rather, a spectral women’s choir emerges as guitars fade, while simple stringed instruments are plucked and a clicking, percussive noise maker is shaken. These stretches of ritualistic noise form bridges between songs and induce a shift in emotional receptiveness in the listener much like the Dionysian Mystery rites of old. These bridges culminate in a full six-plus minute track that ends the album in a haunting, abstract mix of women’s voices and guitar lines that feels both ancient and cosmic. Normally, such an ending after 40 minutes of blistering black metal would feel like an ill timed experiment, but “Maritime Flare” is a natural gathering of threads lacing through the album and is ultimately earned.
Whatever else happens in the second half of 2019, this year has already put its best blackened foot forward. With Rare Field Ceiling, Yellow Eyes have placed themselves right in the middle of the current zeitgeist and put American black metal in the same conversation as the current wave of Icelandic and European bands holding up the tent poles of the genre. If you’re looking for a winding journey in turns mystic and terrifying, this album is a must listen.