I first came across the curiously named And Now The Owls Are Smiling, the project of Norfolk based Nre, while delving down the rabbit hole of UKBM and finding his first album Despair and was rather taken by his atmospheric music and the slightly folky take on depressive black metal. So yes I was delighted to see this appear on the review lists.
This second album opens with ‘Our Forest Calls Me Home’. A little thunderstorm, the sound of rain from within shelter and the slow, melancholy and reflective guitar riff starts. A wistful melody ripples over the top before the life blazes forth on clean vocals before the harsh vocals rise. It’s just immediately so evocative, draping atmosphere around my shoulders, a thick warm cloak against the chill. The sound is clear, the guitar forefront. A feel that explores the land, a manner that shares an outlook with early Fen and Forteresse, Winterfylleth and Fellwarden. A pinch of Burzum maybe. It’s quite the beautiful start, and a definite step on, a broadening of the sound on Despair.
‘An Indictment’ even with a little spoken word to begin has a much harder edge, but those same aching melodic waves. There’s an unmistakable whisper of folk as the song progresses, an undertow to the rising riff before the gorgeous, swelling clean vocals come in and lift it up. It is quite beautiful. A lovely touch.
The title track has a stronger drive to it than previous songs. A wildness comes in, a stormy presence pierced by some dark but compelling melody and a wonderful lead guitar courtesy of Steve Blackwood of Old Corpse Road. This is an album where the titular misery is wrapped in a yearning that pulls you into the ancient landscape. It is so much a sound of the land and the weight of time as the brooding thoughts of a mind.
‘Winter’s Elegy’ is a beautiful unaccompanied vocal track with the rich, folky lament provided by Linds Bestwicke of Corvid’s Call. She has a wonderful tone and fine effortless control bringing a chill to the misty album. It’s a perfectly placed song and ushers in the stormy ‘An Empyreal Spirit Dances Before Me’ which weaves, rises and falls across the Fens in a primal whirl.
‘The Hollowness Of Existence’ somehow reminds me of Saor, a fine company to keep, in the haunting folky melody. It may have bleak lyrics questioning the point of continuing, but something, somehow… something positive still touches me. The land goes on as we return to it and there is beauty and comfort in that, a reason to continue until our time. With dips into a passage of sparse guitar notes and clean vocals this is a fine composition, a questioning piece that encourages you to find your way through.
Final song is the short ‘Betrachtungen’, a thoughtful picked acoustic instrumental that offers a little sadness, a little comfort and a thoughtful, reflective path back to the world.
Ah, it’s a mature work is The Comforting Grip Of Misery. A deeply moving one. It has intelligence and touch in equal measure and shows a real progression in Nre’s musical journey. His own sound comes together here and the soul tugging melodies, the acoustic passages and that soft folk touch firmly set And Now The Owls Are Smiling amongst their peers. Downbeat yes but also uplifting and so evocative of the land and nature you feel safe in its arms. For any fans of misty, atmospheric and introspective black metal with an indelible UK heart then you need this like you need the land itself.
And I would also recommend you look at the CD digipack as Nre is a damned good photographer too.