Blaze of Perdition really had a point to make with their last album, 2015’s ‘Near Death Revelations’. Coming off of the back of a terrible road accident in which one member was killed and two others injured, it was doubtless shaped – both conceptually and musically – in the shadow of this incident. Such events can lend such weight and focus to a band that what follows can sometimes feel internally like an anti-climax – after such a cathartic experience, where do we go next? What fuels the fire?

No such problems for this Polish outfit however – ‘Conscious Darkness’ is an absolute belter from the get-go. Concise-yet-expansive, ferocious-yet-considered, it is an incredibly deft blend of blackened styles that nonetheless coalesce to form something at once both engaging and remarkable.

It’s a deceptively simple recipe – smatterings of Deathspell Omega-styled discordance are overlaid with soaring, chiming lead lines whilst surging percussion and the stentorian bark of vocalist Sonneillon add serious muscle to proceedings. There’s a definite whiff of early-days Watain here also in the blend of the savage and the elegiac. After a throwaway sample, ‘A Glimpse of God’ tears out of the gates on a roaring wave of intent and lays down a marker for the proceedings to follow. It’s a captivating start, XCIII’s guitars pouring from the speakers in waves, describing arcs of grim melody.

‘Conscious Darkness’ is not a long album, it’s four tracks encompassing about forty-three minutes of running time, yet each song presents considerable warp ‘n’ weft as they unfurl. ‘Ashes Remain’ commences with fury, the commanding bark of the central vocal refrain (‘ONLY ASHES REMAIN!’) seemingly an order from the abyss. Yet the track pulls back for several minutes in its second half, quieter and more reflective guitar stylings dialling down the gain and the drums slowing to create space. It’s almost ‘post-y’ dare I say it with this intriguing shift in dynamics neither being overplayed nor outstaying its welcome.

‘Weight of the Shadow’ comes next and is perhaps the most dissonant of the four pieces herein – at times, it’s a dead ringer for Deathspell Omega’s ‘Paracletus’ album, the chiming, gnarly guitars and whipcrack percussion from Vizun driving it onwards. Mention must go here to the quality of the production across the album, the drums in particular carrying an organic sense of weight and space.

Closer ‘Detachment Brings Serenity’ however is perhaps the most striking number – the band deploy their most developed sense of melancholic melody yet demonstrated here, the whole song building inexorably towards a stirring, triumphant climax, surging with reverberating clean vocals and choirs. It is a truly exultant and well-composed finale.

Quite simply, ‘Conscious Darkness’ is a fantastic black metal album. It has enough depth to continually unveil new surprises with each listen yet possesses enough vigorous immediacy to captivate from the get-go. Whilst some of their countrymen are being lauded to the heavens for churning out the same old three-chord stuff time and again, Blaze of Perdition have quietly gone and released one of the genre’s highlights for the year. Very impressive.

(9/10 Frank Allain)