Pupil of the Maelstrom: massive soundscapes squeezed into a frustratingly small debut


Almyrkvi, Pupil of the Maelstrom, Ván Records, Ván185 CD digipak (2016)

“Pupil of the Maelstrom” seems an odd title for an EP of cosmic space black metal though as Almyrkvi is a very recent creation and the work is Almyrkvi’s debut release it’s probably not so strange after all. My impression after a few hearings of this is that graduation to a master’s degree in deep space maelstrom administration must be an album or two away; this EP features very highly atmospheric and original darkspace soundscape songs that in themselves are good though not great for reasons to be explained later.

Most tracks are short with the longest clocking at just under 6 minutes and some listeners might consider the times too short for music intended to evoke distinctly dark and malevolent atmospheres to linger in the mind long after the recording has finished. The songs have a heavy epic feel with thunderous beats and rhythms, sinister melodies and an oppressive air that makes high notes seem near-hysterical and low notes more portentous than they actually are. The bass doesn’t just drone on, it groans as if about to throw up loads of green bile, and the sometimes thin guitar tones aren’t just spidery, they’re oozing gossamer that sticks fast and burns when it touches you. With an excessive sound scheme like that, short songs seem criminally shorter than they actually are. The entire EP seems like a collection of trailers for much longer soundtrack works, let alone a proper album.

The songs get better with each passing 5-minute block and each points into a promising musical direction all its own. “Shrouded in Blinding Light” combines heavy industrial BM textures and a dry, dark, almost Satanic ambience with punchy daemon-dance machine rhythms, all overseen by a croaky death-rattle vocal. Mix in blast beats and more thundering tom-tom work, some booming low-end keyboard drone and guitars covered in metal-shaft echo, and we’ve got a tiny soundtrack to a film set in chthonic catacombs of devil worship yet to be made. “Currents of Detestation” follows in a similar vein with more urgent and booming music and a sense of overwhelming cold deep space void. “Feeding the Void” has a strong and majestic ritual air thanks to thumping beats, tittering programmed percussion, a bombastic delivery and layers of sound effect echoes and shrill guitar. If ever music was needed to accompany a rich and esoteric pagan ceremony complete with mass sacrifice and priests and congregation revelling in a collective trance at the end, this song is it. The title track is another thundering ritualistic piece distinguished by shrill and repeating guitar lick loops and background wash suggesting a pantheon of strange alien gods receding into the distance.

It’s shame that such massive-sounding music had to be squeezed onto a 26-minute recording: each track from “Shrouded in Blinding Light” on deserves at least another 10 minutes for a full development of its themes, moods, atmospheres and musical motifs and structures. There’d be opportunities for longer tracks to explore and carry over common themes and ideas, resulting in a much more unified recording. The EP as it is, is a bit fragmented with songs featuring different ideas and each one emphasising a different mix of genres from others. One track seems to be more doom, another is more ambient, a third might be mostly industrial, and so on. Throughout the EP though, there is a definite presence, more felt than seen or heard, of a cold impassive force, hostile to humanity and probably not averse to seizing the first opportunity to obliterate Planet Earth entirely.

So, perhaps at the risk of making myself sound confused, I venture to say this EP is both good and still weak. Almyrkvi still deserves a second listening … that is, when further releases come out.

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