A Diabolic Thirst captures and faces our current darkness on a more epic scale than any “pandemic album” you’ve heard.
Is there a more difficult genre of music to grasp than black metal? Sure, grindcore and death metal are more brutal and disgusting but this is less about sound than history. I am a music and history nerd and I want the full picture. If I am gonna get into a genre, whether it’s jazz, hip hop or any type of metal, I want to go all the way back so I can properly understand and appreciate the present.
But folks, the history of black metal is a minefield. Specifically: a minefield of subgenres, Scandinavian boredom and, uh, neo-Nazis. Neo-Nazis are to black metal what misogyny and grooming are to third-wave emo: an unavoidable, extremely uncomfortable feature of (relatively) popular scenes and genres. Avoiding the baddies requires some work, especially because some of the genre’s key originators and most influential bands have ties to or had members that are neo-Nazis and because that arm of the genre still persists under the National Socialist black metal banner (NSBM).
Montreal’s Spectral Wound is a black metal band through and through from the black and white cover art to the screeching vocals, washed guitars and lightspeed bast beats, but they are part of a new wave that explicitly reject the worldview of NSBM. “There are definitely themes in our lyrics that are very clearly opposed to fascism and racist ideology,” the band told Exclaim! Magazine earlier this year, marking a clear line in the sand between them and the genre’s hateful faction. The fact that it all needs to be spelled out may make some just turn away from the genre entirely — and I wouldn’t blame them. But by doing that, especially if you are a fan of heavy or extreme music, would be denying yourself the pleasure of Spectral Wound’s thrilling and masterful third album, A Diabolic Thirst.
Recorded during “plague year MMXX”, A Diabolic Thirst captures and faces our current darkness on a more epic scale than any “pandemic album” you’ve heard. It’s a seething demon, that also happens to be kinda catchy, in a black metally sort of way. For example, “Soul Destroying Black Debauchery” would absolutely rock on the inevitable Guitar Hero: The Next Generation games that will appear on the nostalgia circuit in a few years. “Mausoleal Drift” is an operatic beast, featuring gorgeous guitar melodies drowned in distortion that blend with the vocals to impressive effect. Closing track “Diabolic Immanence” opens with a (dare I say) fun, four-on-the-floor beat before blasting off towards Hell. It fucking rocks. The whole thing rocks and I think what I have learned listening to the record over and over is that black metal is actually fun, escapist, oh and very very serious, of course.
A Diabolic Thirst, as has been noted in other reviews, is a relatively polished affair compared to past Spectral Wound releases AND really locks into the sound of old-school black metal – which is at this point nearly thirty years old. “They don’t make ’em like this anymore”, wrote a fan named “Inky” on the album’s Bandcamp page. This must be what fans of the Velvet Underground felt like when The Strokes released Is This It some 30 years after Loaded. My point is, Spectral Wound should be at the forefront of a new age of black metal, where the hatred conjured in the music is directed at the places, institutions and people that have done things to be hated for. It is okay to pick up the tarnished corpse of an old genre of music, polish it up a little and give it new life. Spectral Wound is revelling in that reincarnation and so am I.
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