Things have been heading this way for a while and it is as though we are entering the third phase of the moon and secrets that have been hinted at are finally being unveiled. The first was the harrowing black metal of albums such as debut ‘Stronghold of the Inviolables’ after the formation of this highly regarded German act in the late 90’s. The second is the more gothic, mature and epic style illustrated by albums such as ‘Privilegivm’ and the stunning ‘Seven Bells’. Now, and hinted at by last album ‘Sun’ and indeed by offshoot act Crone a more emotional laden rock output has surfaced and the group have yet again metamorphosised and evolved. With this we see the dropping of past monikers such as sG and the use of real names readopted (Philipp Jonas) as far as the mentor and band leader are concerned. Original founding member Daevas (Lars Plegge) has also re-joined the fold and a host of other talent such as Jarboe, (Dolch), Meilenwald (The Ruins Of Beverast), Thomas Helm (Empyrium, Noekk) and Jules Näveri (Enemy Of The Sun) have lined up to contribute their talents to these 9 new songs from the quartet. You can follow their subtle contributions as the journey unfolds It interprets into an album that is in many ways visionary with the individual songs corresponding in visual style to the music making this a highly designed overall aesthetic that goes way beyond mere music itself.

So, what do we get? Well certainly nothing in the way of harsh vocals or blastbeats but to be honest we didn’t really expect them. This is not however a case of a group evolving and growing stale by refusing to look at the past though and ‘Black House’ is packed with emotion and a heartfelt sincerity of a band doing things on their own terms and certainly not for any reasons of commerciality. The glistening moonbeams of ‘Sanctum’ warmly welcome into the many folds and intricacies of the album. Mood is jaunty and a bit on the bouncy side, it’s rock with ballast and groove, as the vocals join so do the heart and soul of things. Melody seems somewhat familiar but that could be as I have been listening to this constantly. Vocal harmonies could easily be considered to have more in common with a band such as Radiohead than anything in the black metal cosmos where things originated from. Don’t let that put you off in the slightest though, its natural and those who have stuck with the band thus far should not find themselves being put off as they too will no doubt have followed the journey closely and indeed matured along with it. This song gradually rises and does move into the fastest section of the album with vocals and musicianship clamouring ever more into fantastically composed vigour before the song abruptly stops on a note and holler. There’s something like the sound of a poppy psychedelia that warmly sees us into ‘Don’t Look Now’ whether it has anything but name shared with the Roeg classic film it has shades of everything from Pink Floyd at their most carefree and a mood and vocal delivery that actually reminds a bit of solo work by Skinny Puppy vocalist ohGr. It’s laid back and sublime and a case as with many of these songs a grower that when you have a fair-few-listens under your belt will suddenly find it clicking into place and making total sense. Beguiling, illuminating but unhindered by occult trimmings it is not a song trying to be clever or anything and neither are the jangling guitar lines on ‘Veronica’s Room’ (again perhaps with another artistic nod to the book by Ira Levin?) which heralds back to early songs by the likes of The Mission. Containing one of many catchy choruses you will look into this room with childlike wonder and be singing along in no time.

Moods change from poppy to slightly doomy shoegaze. ‘He Is Here’ sees us suddenly swamped in a feeling of overwhelming grandiosity and richness. As the vocals rise into huge almost Pattonesque and decedent soars you could almost imagine this number being further backed by full orchestra; perhaps in the future this would not be unimaginable. ‘Cotard’ refers to, the false belief that you or your body parts are dead, dying, or don’t exist and although I have not peeled back all the layers of the narrative and explored yet (the review will be big enough as it is) this fits in perfectly with the feeling of stripped back and numbness evoked by simple glorious melody and beseeching plaintive vocals. It’s guaranteed to send shivers down the spine as it moves from soft grace to a more powerful rapturous clamour. I hate to say this but if they had the talent to write a number like the title track you could imagine one of the Gallagher Brothers singing it, again there’s something in Jonas vocal delivery and it has a classic touch harking back to the Beatles even though geographically it is closer to Leipzig than Liverpool and Munich to Manchester.

The symmetry between each song flows perfectly. ‘Heart’ is a swaying, stripped back number full of love and indeed “heart.” Angelic and gentle in both music and lyrics a twanging guitar line brings feelings of bliss and nirvana to these ears. ‘Mute God’ is no less beguiling and after repeated plays welcomes you back into arms like a long-lost lover. That’s not a cliché but everything seems perfect in melody and poetic romanticism. It’s a song to swoon to and as it picks up the ride is a breath-taking one. All good things have to come to an end, the 52-minute album has not a wasted note and sees an album that is perfectly composed and begging for repeated listens. ‘Earth Hour’ is the final track and goes out rocking leaving the listener in a jubilant mood wanting and waiting till the time is right to play again and see what secrets unfold the next time around.

Perhaps the album is a bit of a gamble and I certainly have no idea how others will react to it distancing myself fully until I could put my thoughts down. I’m still not 100% convinced that I would go as far as to say it’s my favourite album by the band, it has such strong competition but it has definitely left one hell of a mark on my soul and is an album I intend to enjoy over time again and again. The fact it has transcended any form of expected genre conventions makes it all the more enjoyable and it will definitely be a contender for album of the year and possibly may bring a whole new fanbase to the band; hopefully without leaving too many casualties in its wake.

(9/10 Pete Woods)