Under the Light of Mountains: a solid work of fast and fierce melodic atmospheric black metal

Saqraruna, Under the Light of Mountains, Germany, Super Sargasso, SS018 CD (2022)

A strong, solid effort, this album is the second from black metal foursome Saqraruna who hail from Lima in Peru. On first listen, the album is sonically very dense with every moment in each song filled to the brim in harsh dry vocal rasp, surging tremolo guitar melody and fast overactive drumming. (At the time of the album’s recording, Saqraruna did not have a drummer.) Saqraruna’s style is a fast ‘n’ fierce grinding melodic atmospheric black metal with some death metal influence for the most part. There are snatches of Peruvian folk at the beginning of a couple of early songs. Lyrics feature on all tracks and they include themes of Peru’s conquest and colonisation by Spain and the destruction of the indigenous cultures and societies in the country as a result.

After a brief choral introduction, Saqraruna get stuck in the business end of their music with “An Impaled God Shall Never Reign” and never really leave it, working and shredding their instruments hard, with a mix of ghastly growling demonic vocals fighting for domination with the horde-of-hornets tremolo guitars. Any references to Peruvian folk appear near the beginning and deep within the track for brief periods and there is a bit of church organ near the end of the song. “Bethink of the Vulture Bloodshed” plays like a medium-fast song with a swaggering middle headbanging section yet the triggered drumming is extremely fast. This is a strongly melodic track with surging guitar lines that have plenty of feeling and emotion; at the same time background synth gives the song a sighing cold edge.

With all songs going at full tilt and the musicians sticking closely to the minimalist musical formula, there’s not a great deal to differentiate most of them from one another. A few songs stand out: the aforementioned “Bethink of the Vulture Bloodshed” for its structure and, coming later in the album, “Flight of the Black Serpent” for its riffing and hard-hitting percussion work, and a general sense of the musicians getting carried away with the flowing music even as the coldly icy ambience in the background seems to move closer to them. The music transforms about halfway through into quiet solo guitar melody and then into a series of repeating riffs almost approaching post-BM in their almost optimistic atmosphere (though a riff threaded through them holds an ominous threat of menace). “A Sight Beyond the Sun” reveals an unexpected melodramatic solo piano melody that completely takes over the song past its halfway moment.

While the musicians play well with enthusiasm and aggression, and their sound has that necessary evil touch (from the combination of constant whining, grinding guitars and the background glacial keyboard drone), the songs need more individuality and maybe a bit more lightness or atmosphere in parts so that the listening experience is not too hard-going and monotonous. The band has a very hard sound and the production makes gives the music a bleached or trashed patina. Saqraruna make some attempts to include traditional Peruvian folk in some songs but the samples don’t appear well integrated into the music. There is a bit of experimentation in later tracks and more of that experimentation, perhaps featuring instruments or musical elements from genres native to Peru, pre-Hispanic and post-conquest or whatever the musicians prefer, would be welcome on future recordings. Saqraruna have a good foundation with solid playing and a talent for finding good riffs that the musicians can build on.