Album Review: BASTARD SAPLING Instinct Is Forever
It's amazing what a few decades can do. Twenty years ago the state of the American black metal scene was a shadow of what it has become. A host of bands has risen up from all corners of this vast nation to challenge the old guard and to advance their musical vision into a stratosphere never before experienced in the sometimes claustrophobic genre of black metal. Richmond, Virginia may not seem like a hotbed of inspiration for no-frills black metal, being far from the bleaker landscapes of colder climes.
Nevertheless, back in 2007 a chill cold rain fell upon the southern city, spawning the growth of Bastard Sapling, a musical collective whose stark, blasting take on forward-thinking black metal has earned them quite a reputation. After two highly acclaimed releases the band is all set to release Instinct is Forever (via Forcefield Records and Gilead Media) on the 26th of August, 2014. Produced in Baltimore, Maryland by Kevin Bernsten (Mutilation Rites, Triac), will this painstakingly crafted new album continue to twine the roots of Bastard Sapling deeper into the bedrock of black metal, or will the unforgiving winds of genre saturation sweep them from the soil?
From the outset, Instinct is Forever seems intent on melting the face of the listener. A muffled incantation behind a faraway choir heralds the beginning of scorching opener "My Spine Will Be My Noose," the structure of which immediately calls to mind Nine Covens, Wodensthrone, and the chilling, razor-sharp blast of modern-day English black metal. Bastard Sapling utilizes some engaging dynamics, though, in the form of some seamlessly executed tempo changes. These call to mind crusty death metal influences, all of which blend together into an excellent whole. The face-melting continues on 'Subterranean Rivers of Blood,' before third song 'The Opal Chamber' introduces a very distorted bass intro which serves as a reminder of a more crust, southern source of inspiration for what turns into a more sprawling, slow-burning affair.
Bastard Sapling goes for atmospherics and acoustic melodies on 'Elder,' before belting out album highlight 'The Killer In Us All.' This song is one of the freshest and best you'll hear from the entire black metal canon this year. It builds upon a mid-paced, melodic set of riffs, maintaining this pace while going for the throat with the repeating chorus 'There is a killer in us all.' The magical 'Lantern at the End of Time' features a heartfelt vocal performance from Windhand's Dorthia Cottrell, offering a nice counterpoint to vocalist Mike Paparo's shredding rasp. The song meanders without ever getting lost through 10:57 of pure ethereal goodness.
Things on this album never lose momentum, though, as songs like 'Splintering Ouroborous' will surely attest. Closer 'Forbidden Sorrow' features some amazing instrumentation towards its conclusion. With Instinct is Forever, Bastard Sapling have considerably raised the bar for black metal both here and abroad. The crystal clear production manages to retain every ounce of fury and feeling the band injected into their creation, ensuring complete face meltage with every spin. Whether you are a fan of old school black metal like Bathory or Immortal, or you enjoy more of the mind benders out there like Deathspell Omega, this band and indeed this album will have something for you. It is cold, relentless, yet expansive and comfortable in its own skin. Do not miss it.