USBM is no longer an entity that can be considered clear cut and orthodox. The foundations laid down by the likes of Judas Iscariot and Krieg and later adopted by everyone from Kult Of Azazel to Nachtmystium entered new territories as bands experimented and added different types of sounds that belonged more to other genres than black metal. Take for example the gothic strains of Negative Plane and the naturistic, ambient and shoegazing sounds of the bands spilling out the Cascadian region. Then we have post rock and even Indie riffs spiralling out from bands many from aroundSan Francisco and California like Bosse De Nage, Cormorant and bands on the Flenser label. Then there are others such as Obsequiae marrying the black with renaissance etched classicism and Atriarch with doom laden death rock. So black metal from the USA has certainly found new and interesting ground of late. That brings us to this band in question Sylvan Realm whose logo suggests that you are in for an album of pure and unadulterated blackness but the music beneath the cover is like those mentioned, far from one dimensional.

Based inMontanaand formerly known as Reverie this trio includes members of Aurora Borealis, The Green Evening Requiem and ex live members of bands such as Woe, Woods Of Ypres and the much missed Rain Fell Within. This should give you a clue that the album is going to be pretty multi-faceted and the five tracks on it all indeed vary a fair amount. An incredibly Emperor sounding riff unwinds as we go into the self titled ‘Sylvan Realm’ it did perhaps not help as I had just been listening to Emperor before hearing this first. After this though the guitar sound unwinds and flails about with a progressive and rock laden feel, not quite black per se when you hear it in comparison to the blasting drums. Vocals are on the whole yelled out, reminding me again a bit of Boss De Nage, sometimes they are quieter and gruffer but at others they really go for it, almost in competition yelling above the music. There is a technical and convoluted flow to the music and it gets beneath the skin with spiky grit and determination. There is no rush, this debut album runs just over 40 minutes and has 5 tracks so they are long and involving on the whole.

It is by the second track ‘Disappear Into The Landscape’ where the melody behind the guitar riffs really comes into its own. This owes as much to rock and Indie with progressive touches as it does to black metal and the sound of some of the aforementioned bands really makes its presence felt. I like it, others do not and this is the sort of song that I guess many would class with contempt as being ‘hipster black metal’ taking it away from the ‘realms’ that it should be. To me it’s interesting and shows a band not restrained by any limitations. When the track canters off and the guitar flails all over it soloing with abandon over the clattering drums it’s a pretty breathless flight that leaves you gasping before it slows again.

King Crimson would not be a million miles off as a mention when we pop along to the ‘Temple Of Not’ and then we have some gorgeous sounding gothic guitar lines before wham, the black feral assault piles back in biting and screaming. There is plenty to sink your teeth into here although that is probably exactly what the music has done to you. Yapping away and throwing weird spiky guitar shapes the constant evolving is not for those with short attention spans, indeed the band keeps up the shape shifting for almost ten minutes and put moody spoken word parts and slow militant drum rolls into it, honing an obsidian post gothic vibe into their black progressive plunging abyss. It’s with gloom and doom that sees the epic album title track sinuously uncoiling. By now the listener should be aware that this is a realm where nothing is quite as it seems and should be happy to relax and see where the rich melody takes next. What have we not had in the mix yet, how about some Vikingesque croons? Why not and there is even some kick ass garage rock style licks in this monster before it’s done.

If your head has not melted yet there is more in the way of surprises to come with ‘TwilightKingdom.’ It’s an acoustic guitar piece with spoken sinister words taking us back to the deep dark forests of yesteryear and as the words prophesise “between darkness and light.” It’s best to just close your eyes and let it wash over you.

So a hugely imaginative and enjoyable album here, one that is well worth looking into if you like your music to take in a lot of different flavours. I shall be keeping my ear to the ground for news on Sylvan Realm in the future that’s for sure and the whole album can be found at the (retro) link below.

(7.5/10 Pete Woods)