While I had a soft spot for Lęk’s first release Sweven a few years ago (time flies, it was back in 2014) it didn’t achieve enough across its 40 minute span to raise itself clearly enough above the pack. This time round we’ve seen a big improvement. Lęk has not dropped a shred of their dungeon-strength black metal production, with treble turned up to the max. But they have begun to spread their wings as far, as influences go, leaving behind the two dimensional Norwegian-Swedish axis sound that helped them through the first outing. Yes, some of those basic influences are still there but Lęk have replaced that typically windswept sound with something that uses those mournful riffs more wisely, even releasing a bit outright melody now and again and varies pace to magnificent effect. There’s a clear nod to Mgla here bringing Lęk closer to their Polish homeland than on their first release. The overall effect is one that oozes melancholy with an added, sinister gothic edge that makes it almost hard to imagine this is the same band.
The album kicks off with an above par organ sound intro, fairly standard, but there’s already a discernible edge to the sound even at that early stage. The first track proper barges in, breaking the reverie, even though it’s tempting to say I’d have been happy with a few more minutes with just me and the church pipes. The pitch and sheer intensity of the riff that stabs the silence is striking in itself, but then so many black metal bands make a good first impression. However, as the end of first track Absencja ducha nears, Lęk is already weaving its dark spell. The swirling riffs and haunting melody that overlays them is an exemplary lesson in hypnotic black metal. But Lęk doesn’t rest on its laurels, taking things down a notch or two with the second track Spiritual Satanism – a doomy ode to you-know-who. By comparison, following track As Leaves has positively got a spring in its step while at the same time losing none of the ominous flavours that Shadows of Black Souls is busily cooking up. And the best is still to come – the title track included, which conjures up that other recently maturing force of black metal Fortresse as it splices riffs together at high speed while letting loose the drummer to dabble in patterns that are enough to leave your head spinning all on their own.
Whereas there were clearly times on their debut when Lęk dropped the ball, there is no such issue here. Even on relatively straightforward tracks like Nostalgia the band exhibits a knack for delicate hooks that reminded me of masters of the art like Kampfar. The signs of something special were already glowing in the darkness of Lęk’s sound on Sweven – even though so many bands exhibit such promise and never turn the spark into a blaze. Not so with Shadows of Black Souls. Repeated listens only serve to seal the verdict that the band hasn’t just spread its dark leathery wings, but is effortlessly taking flight. An excellent album and a band that should have no problems muscling in alongside the upper echelons of Polish black metal if it keeps up this trajectory.
(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)