Company: Southern Lord Release: 2008 Genre: Black Reviewer: Etiam
A critical milestone...the rarefied level of a true classic
In American black metal, the figure of Wrest has become an institution. His main project, Leviathan, is arguably the epitome of West Coast black metal and is one of the most recognized acts in the entire 'USBM' scene. As a participant in the supergroup Twilight as well as the sole member of side-project Lurker of Chalice, he has become a popular and influential name in his own time without losing face as a recluse and misanthrope uninterested in fame. His one-man projects, aside from their success, are notable for how well each instrument is integrated into the creative process. Many fans would recognized Wrest projects for his distinctively muffled croaks or shrill wash of tremolo guitars, but both bass and percussion can also play leading roles. Wrest began as a drummer (his work with Gift Horse is not to be overlooked for the open-minded fan), and his deft grasp of dynamics lends his compositions a variety and momentum that surpasses most of his peers.
The semi-ambient/melodic black metal project Lurker of Chalice is perhaps the best exhibition of Wrest's diverse talents, so it is a pleasure to see its eponymous debut re-released for a larger audience. This album was first issued 'en masse' on Southern Lord in 2005 (earlier demos exist), and was officially limited to 777 copies. Other copies allegedly have turned up, spurring cries of foul play and, perhaps, ultimately leading to the album's reissue in digipak form. This reissue features a bonus track, 'The Glory Experiment', which is a version of a song found on an earlier demo. It's the most ambient cut here, a little bit like what 90s King Crimson would sound like live if they dosed up on Quaaludes and played at quarter-time, but less cool than that makes it sound. (Southern Lord has mistakenly called this piece 'Wail', which was the original "bonus pain" from the 2LP--both songs are uneventful, compared to the rest of the album.)
Some subsequent hints of controversy arose in 2007 and 2008 with rumors of a second Lurker of Chalice album awaiting release. It was to be titled 'Perverse Calculus', and was slated to be released by Judd Blake's (Nachtmystium) Battle Kommand Records. Evidently, a legal scrum ensued concerning Wrest's contract to Moribund Cult Records for Leviathan, and although an album did eventually emerge, it was under the Leviathan moniker and was titled 'Massive Conspiracy Against All Life'. It's suggested that this album is Lurker of Chalice's second LP, and some tracks are very much in that vein, such as the pulsing 'VI-XI-VI'. Some copies of 'Massive...' also feature song titles quite different from the official ones listed, though they still generally correspond to the lyrics included in the official booklet. As things stand now, Lurker of Chalice has been silent since this 2005 debut, leaving the self-titled as the sole official product we may ever receive (although, based on the ambient explorations found on Leviathan's 'A Silhouette in Splinters' LP, it's possible that his two projects were headed for unification anyway). Whatever the case, 'Lurker of Chalice' stands as a critical milestone in Wrest's career and in the development of the United States' black metal scene.
Lyrics are not included in either 'Lurker of Chalice' official release, excepting a hideous little poem inside the booklet that is classic Wrest: passive voice phrasing, idiosyncratic syntax, and imagery in metaphors that hangs from the mind like a parasite. This album being generally less trebly in tone than Leviathan, it is easier to pick out lines of lyrics here and there, and they are characteristically dour. Mostly, though, 'Lurker of Chalice' spends its time on protracted instrumental passages. Songs like 'Spectre as Valkyrie Is' are defined by their droning melancholy and tenuous balance between dissonance and clarity. 'Paramnesia' is a twisted interlude in the album's middle, four minutes in length; its only vocals are clean 'Ahhs' from a synth board that usher in a proggy last movement that would really groove if it weren't so gloomy.
Samples from films should rarely, if ever, add much to an album's overall score, but 'Lurker of Chalice' features some of the most effective to ever be used in metal. These range from 'The Omen'--"When the Jews return to Zion...", which is a far better adaptation than Iced Earth's--to 'Sylvia', a Gwenyth Paltrow biopic of Sylvia Plath ("Sometimes I feel like I'm not...solid."). These clips are tasteful, haunting, and are, somehow, embedded superbly in an album that fundamentally rejects the lives and loves of others, much less their creative works.
Lurker's definitive guitar tone, the looming blend of melody and ambiance, and even some first versions of songs from this LP can be found on old Lurker of Chalice demos that have surfaced, and which date back to before any Leviathan full-length was released. It's important to note that while Leviathan was allowed to evolve prolifically and rather publicly from an ill-tempered colt into a full-fledged nightmare, Lurker of Chalice was covetously kept private until it was ready, finished, mature. The final product is much more stirring for Wrest's prudence and patience.
Altogether, this is not a perfect album--but it is an important one. 'Lurker of Chalice' achieves the mystery and pervasive misanthropy that helped Weakling's 'Dead As Dreams' assume a posthumous grandeur that may exceed its worth--if only by a very little--and that most black metal artists only ever dream of achieving. Moreover, 'Lurker of Chalice' has a very tragic sense of musicality, or maybe it's a very musical tragedy, that elevates it to the rarefied level of a true classic. Some classics have aged well, such as the aforementioned 'Dead as Dreams', while others like 'Transilvanian Hunger' survive on a few moments of enduring brilliance that overshadow all subsequent efforts. (How many of us have a favorite song from that album that isn't the title track?) Thoroughly of the former camp, 'Lurker of Chalice' is a complete experience that straddles the worlds of ambient and actual black metal with equal command. It is as piercing for the us as we find the veil laid over Wrest himself to be impenetrable. Without a doubt, if this generation of metal fans looks back on its youth, come 2050 and beyond, 'Lurker of Chalice' will rank proudly among the few albums still worth spinning.
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