There is clearly something afoot in the Coltsblood camp, just from looking at the cover of this long awaited follow up to 2014’s Into The Unfathomable Abyss. That debut was a remarkable tomb of blackened sludge and Celtic Frost dragged backwards through a tarpit by Winter, all wrapped in a distorted black and white cover. This time the trio of McNulty, McNulty and Plested offer a cover by Eric C. Harrison but this time in pale, sickly colour. Not so much a hint as a statement.

The first song, the title track is a monolithic thirteen minutes and opens, slow and melancholy, with unadulterated funeral doom. The melody hinted at on the debut is initially given free reign here, keening guitar lines over a wasteland of deep, heavy doom riffing before falling away up leave only the solitary bass for a few moments. Things rise up then, a crescendo slowly pushing into the blackest of doom, or tortured vocals rolling around subterranean channels before the wards break and the nasty primitive aggression lashes out at speed. It moves from almost Thergothon and Unholy proto-funeral doom into Teitanblood black death visceral assault and back again with mesmeric ease. It’s Coltsblood with three years of writing and gigging under their feet; assured, matured, pitch black and grown.

If you want to pinpoint the differences, besides thoughtful and unintrusive use of keyboards, just enough and no more, I would have to say that a slightly greater sharpness to the riffing in both tone and sound has scraped back the sludge a good deal. This in no way reduces either the density or the brutality on offer – just check out the unhinged six and a half minute attack of ‘Mortal Wound’ – but rather like the cover art it has simply added some unsettling colour to the sickness. ‘The Legend Of Abhartach’ is another example; slower, ominous and full of a dank evil but with a superb tone (and I would also highly recommend reading up on Abhartach for an insight into the kind of inspiration Coltsblood work on).

‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ – presumably not inspired by the 1980s Richard Briers sitcom – is a grim and insistent funereal creep around a nagging, nerve gnawing melody line over a dark riff. It has a genuinely dizzying effect, like a broken roundabout slowing to a crawl in a long deserted playground. On first play-through this is where you realise how much is hidden in the thick black folds of this cloth, a complexity which surprises you with the seemingly primeval atmosphere Coltsblood display. It’s also what inspires you to go back and listen again and again.

Last song, ‘The Final Winter’ begins with delicacy, lost notes wandering alone within a half echo. We have the minimal keyboard sounds which help enclose it within a cold, bleak sound. It is once again very proto-funeral doom, a weird little Coltsblood crossroads where Corrupted, Until Death Overtakes Me, Skepticism and Thergothon slip past each other almost unnoticed. It’s a sombre, beautiful and fantastic finale to the album.

It’s great to see a band progress naturally and expand their sound without losing that core which is the ugly black heart of Coltsblood. Every bit as dark and ominous, as brutal as their debut, Ascending Into Shimmering Darkness is the beast crawling from the darkess into a crepescular light and it’s grime, tar encrusted hide glistening with unexpected, twisted colour.

This is how you do a second album. Superb guys, superb.

(9/10 Gizmo)