Of The Sign... by Spirit PossessionRelease date: March 31, 2023
Label: Profound Lore Records
On the debut self-titled Spirit Possession album, the duo of S. Peacock (Ulthar, Pandiscordian Necrogenesis, Mastery) on vocals and stringed instruments and A. Spungin (Vouna, Ormus, Taurus) on drums and handmade synthesisers, forged a dazzling record that delivered a caustic, urgent flurry of razor-sharp black metal that harkened back to the dawning of the genre. Three years later, the extreme metal retropioneers join forces once again for their sophomore LP, Of The Sign… Across the intervening time it seems that the band have been perfecting and fine-tuning their sound, continuing to brood and have become ever more blood-curdling in their desire to acuminate their dread-laced art.
Of The Sign… is a series of six volleys of deranged hymnals among nine tracks overall, the sum total paying unholy homage to the genesis of their bitter, beloved style – an occult love letter to black metal written in demented spirals of keys and synths, replete with unhinged, disturbing vocals and with tortured percussion that makes one reach for a helpline phone number.
The artwork for the album is also jaw-dropping, adding to and completing the overall feeling that this may well be a landmark release for the band. The cover art by Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos is one of those pieces that makes you return to it individually – conjuring images and sounds long before and after the record has been spun. Both a mood-setter and art with the ability to capture emotional impressions in amber, it does, in a very visceral way reminds me of fellow Profound Lore artist, Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper, and the mediative, hypnotising artwork from Mariusz Lewandowski (R.I.P.).
Recorded themselves, but with all the tell-tale hallmarks of Colin Marston’s uncanny mixing ability subsumed within, it was duly completed at Menegroth, The Thousand Caves (where recent records from Krallice and Imperial Triumphant have “enjoyed” a similar singularly unique and warped treatment). The album feels a significant levelling up of Spirit Possession’s abilities as their own unit as well as a stand-alone statement of intent and potency. This assertion should be of particular note, as those reading who are aware of the duo’s debut LP will know that Spirit Possession was itself an astonishing achievement in its’ own right. The fact that Of The Sign… so clearly and obviously surpasses it is utterly astonishing.
The record features the celebrated template that had preceded it; a violent maelstrom of cacophonous, intense, and cavernous vocals, enmeshed within a towering, rotted labyrinth of guitar ecstasy, drums so white hot they may as well we magma, if a lava flow was speeding like the Niagara Falls, and harsh-noise analogue eruptions of synthesisers that usurp and pivot the direction of the horror as often as the virtuosic, bewitching trilling of the strings present.
But Of The Sign… does not seem content to leave it at just that, with the duo pushing their musicianship further, their compositional mastery to the limit, and placing the listener’s ability to willingly follow under significant duress. To encounter Of The Sign… certainly leads to deep appreciation, conviction, and wonder at Spirit Possession’s juxtaposition of gravity and grandeur, but it isn’t a pact to enter into lightly. The listening experience of the six twisted epiphanic works on offer takes its toll, and one must surely be predisposed to tune in and to have some high esteem of the canon they are worshiping (and then deforming, denaturing, and sometimes even upending) in order to have full appreciation for the achievements this excellent record delivers.
The album races rabid out the gate with ‘Orthodox Weapons’. Spirit Possession have, in the intervening years between albums, been sharpening their atraments, because this track slices through eardrums as if they were butter. Following a disconcerting intro, the band race into a frenzied romp from minute one, immediately thrusting the listener into a black metal G-force spin of a magnitude you really aren’t (and cannot) prepare for.
The duo have an ability that only very few black metal acts seem to possess: to deliver jaw-dropping, harsh and heavy songwriting while maintaining a true sense of compositional trajectory and a melodic and harmonic sensibility that abstracts their music from being only ever being considered as extreme, experimental, or avant-garde. Spirit Possession’s music fits all of these adjectives for bludgeoning black metal, but there’s also a heady dose of heavy metal swagger present, too. Perhaps this is best evidenced by the mesmerising merge of all of those disparate sounds – as well as the apt, ever so slightly glib (?) titling of second track – ‘Second Possession’. There’s a joy to be found in the paean to misery, make no mistake.
If that sounds bizarre, it is, but those who are in love with the genre will no doubt make sense of my oxymorons. For those who have recently been loving a very different album, but with a kin-like effect, in the form of Lamp of Murmuur’s recent LP, Saturnian Bloodstorm, Spirit Possession’s powerful, cudgel-like sophomore opus will be of great, similarly mystical delight.
The first two tracks were the advance singles to the LP, so it was with excitement I met the rest of the album on first listen. The title track is, in fact, a short bridging interlude to the doleful, mangled, and buckled miasma of ‘Inhale the Hovering Keys’. It’s on this track that we find S performing alchemy – a preternatural blur of contemporary dazzling black metal sorcery forged with wailing, catchy full-on RIFFS that wouldn’t feel out of place in the 80s and 90s, if only they were spotlighted front and centre, repeated ad nauseam. But we very obviously don’t get that served to us… Just as we begin to lock-in, the song’s logic fractures, the music unspools and untethers itself, and the knots and loops it had once formed fray and seek to form new connections elsewhere in greater and greater unconventional shapes. ‘The Hex’ then closes out the first half of the record with unsettling, looming synths.
The first half’s denouement gives the mind a brief moment to take stock – but certainly not to relax whatsoever – before Of The Sign… launches back into gear with ‘Practitioners of Power’. It’s only in the first minute or so of this track that the album momentarily loses momentum. I wonder whether a slight play with the master to raise the volume of the track at its opening would do the trick… There’s just a moment where the opening of the song feels like it needs assistance from another source in order to make it more impactful, and this subtle deficiency – if one can really call it that – is certainly not coming from any negative correlation to the mix or of the writing itself. Whatever slight dip I personally identify here is quickly overridden with the devastating music on supply. The moments when S and A join together to begin to groove midway through the song is ugly and glorious in the best of ways, and the unhinged, crescendo eruption of an ending is a marvel.
‘Hierarchical Skin’ is another track that creates a tension from the technical and otherworldly aptitude the duo have in droves, before releasing that in a wondrous, pleasurable stomp. Spirit Possession never allow those moments to overstay their welcome. Sometimes the release only lasts a few bars, at most, before being recalled back into the dizzying melee. It’s just enough to undercut the onslaught that a lesser band might deem relentless in a good way, but might prove unnecessary and a hurdle to repeated, enjoyable listens among even the most hardened of audience members. The longest track of the entire record is ‘Enter the Golden Sign’, at a robust nine-and-a-half minutes long. It serves as a culmination of all the pyrotechnic, awe-inspiring catharsis that has gone before. A bludgeoning display of supreme work, it’s genuinely a jaw-dropping feat, especially when reflecting on the fact that this is the work of only two people. One could write an entire tract just on this epic song alone, but safe to say it is the monolith that many will pray for when witnessing the band live. The LP then closes out with the two-minute epilogue; the synth-laden, ominous portent of ‘The Altar’.
Of The Sign… is an album that demands to be replayed following its’ final notes ringing out – and I really don’t think I can give any record a better ringing endorsement than that.
It demands to be played immediately again.
You’ll become obsessed. You’ll be like a spirit possessed.