PathsEver get that sinking feeling? Paths would be very disappointed if you didn’t. Describing the sound as ‘deep atmospheric black metal’, the band’s mastermind has been perfecting his bleak, organic, Norse-inspired metal sound for a couple of years now and last July he surpassed all previous efforts by a long margin with the independently released Where The Oakenhearted Dwell. Some one-man black metal bands deserve to be unleashed on the world and some don’t. Michael Taylor from Canada (that’s right, not Nazgul Peppergrinder, or anything like that – just plain old Mike Taylor) belongs firmly in the former camp. Oakenhearted was the next best thing to a dark, psychedelic-induced audience with the original one-eyed wizard himself – complete with a Walknut adorned cover – like a spellbinding trip back 1500 years. Excellent stuff and with a vibe in the vein of early Kampfar, Wyrd and anyone who’s heard and become addicted to Elite’s classic Bifrost would have been in frostbitten heaven (check out the intro to Beyond the Timberline).

So, as if assuming it was never going to be possible to outrank last year’s successful attempt to distil darkly heathen metal into a modern day classic, Paths have just gone deeper into layers of fuzz-filled, deep, atmospheric metal. Beauty and Nihility is distinctly less Norse even though it clearly pays a good deal of homage to the above bands and more as well as stalwarts of Eastern Europe’s pagan lands like Drudkh or darker heathen pastures of bands like Walknut or Nachtfalke. Despite that I’d say that this owes less to what has gone before, digging deep into Taylor’s creative well to produce something that is beating its own path. Just like the name suggests, then. Good then that this is just in time for the band’s first CD release (on Werewolf Promotions, which normally seems to specialise in releasing cassette versions of albums, and co-released with the highly promising Wolfspell records – definitely one to keep an eye on). If the title sounds a little like a darkly twisted English period novel where the home counties’ most eligible bachelor turns out to be addicted to S&M and hard drugs then you may be taking all the wrong cues. It’s actually an attempt to mainline the band’s own version of the splendid power of pagan magic and nature into your brain. The manner in which the band unleashes its intense buzz saw sound punctuated by the occasional salute by guitar solo and folk-leavened flurry – like on fourth track Save The Dawn, which is, like the other seven tracks, pretty much a self-contained atmospheric unit while perfectly matching the twin labels of the album’s title.

If you’re into this stuff – and for me the guitar sound is pretty much pitch-perfect as its harsh, unforgiving wall of noise flows steadily out of those speakers – then you won’t need me to persuade you of the likely intoxicating effects of tracks Cloudless Whisper or the soaring final track Nihility. By far the most mature release yet from an artist who feels like he’s only just hitting its stride and while remaining as utterly and psychedelically grim and frost-bitten as previous releases as he cuts his own furrow through the permafrost. 

(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)