Released: 2017, Ván Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
After sort of teasing the fifth full-length by his one-man shape-shifting black/doom metal project late last year with the ritualistic, if repetitive, “Takitum Tootem! (Wardance)” single – which featured a wild deconstruction of Pink Floyd's “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” as the B-side - Alexander von Meilenwald throws a bit of a curveball with the full album from The Ruins of Beverast. While “Takitum Tootem!” concludes Exuvia, it is a radically different “trance” version, far more meditative and somber than the agitated, drums-of-doom-punctuated earlier take, which certainly lived up to its name.
The irony is that a lot of Exuvia is more along the “Wardance” lines. While it certainly has its mellower moments during the vast expanses of its sprawling songs – which average 11 minutes each – Exuvia is prone to jarring fits and starts, careening tempos and cascades of guitar that can feel downright smothering. There's also the matter of the tribal/native drum patterns that weave their way in and out of the songs here, starting with the title track, which leads things off with a meandering a 15-minute odyssey that touches on doom, ambient and metal with ritual chanting and operatic passages thrown in for good measure as it builds and builds.
“Surtur Barbaar Maritime” charts a more traditional black metal course, and is about half as long, but it too boasts a tribal thrum and eerie chorale of sorts between the furious tremolo, blast beats and von Meilenwald's phlegmy, croaking vocals. “Maere (On A Stillbirth's Tomb),” by contrast, may be the most linear track here, sticking with its brooding doomy throb throughout despite the occasional double-bass roil beneath and reveling in the sheer weight of von Meilenwald's riffs.
“The Pythia's Pale Wolves” takes a page from the title track, and wanders about over a series of movements for more than 14 minutes. Its dramatic soundscape offers clean-sung passages, bagpipes and female vocal accompaniment to offset the brood, bombast, blackened fury and lupine howls of its more menacing side.
“Towards Malakia” revisits the deliberate doom motif and is quite generous with its layers of guitar and variety of vocal treatments, making it Exuvia's grandest track. The death metal sprint near the back end and the ceremonial intro and outro only heighten the drama.
The Ruins of Beverast have always been a challenging, curious “band.” They are genuinely unique, doing something utterly of their own. Exuvia is more of the “same,” albeit with a different take on what came before, and offers plenty of intrigue for more open-minded listeners or those pining for something other than just the usual black metal.