Written by: The Administrator
For a music reviewer, familiarity is a tool. Thus, before getting too embroiled in the details, here’s the rub: the world of atmospheric and folky black metal constitutes for me the proverbial Road Less Travelled. My experience in these woods is limited; I have little knowledge of convention or expectation. That said, I do have a deep respect for any artist under the metal umbrella who strives to replicate and/or honor the lushness and vibrancy of the natural world.
If anyone fits that vague criteria, it is the remarkably prolific Robes Of Snow, whose album covers alone should indicate a certain dedication to the out-of-doors. Each photo captures a prototypical seasonal moment, with Autumn’s Stag and the Crescent Moon—today’s album in question—featuring a melancholic autumnal scene. A boardwalk, wet with rain. Rusty pre-frost grasses. Bare trees standing stark against a yellow sky. The snow is coming soon, but it ain’t here yet. As someone who grew up in the rural reaches of the northeast US, it’s a scene I recognize quite well, and inevitably take solace in. But the visual aspect would fall apart, obviously, if the sonic qualities didn’t hold up their end of the aesthetic bargain. Luckily, Robes Of Snow succeeds quite well in this regard. And that's puttin' it lightly.
Featuring a distinctly light-footed acoustic flair throughout, Autumn’s Stag and the Crescent Moon is markedly warm in a way that practically oozes autumnal ambiance. This feels most like a noteworthy accomplishment during the (slightly) more traditional blackened romps, which feel organic and present, rather than carrying themselves with frostbitten second-wave aloofness. Robes of Snow has a keen ear for drama, and absolutely nails the dynamic sense of movement and narrative entailed. While some tracks achieve it better than others (see the one-two punch of “Funeral For Summer At The Falls” and highlight “Growing The Harvest’s Shadow” as prime examples,) the project as a whole feels like a distinct voyage and transition. While the album’s heaviest and harshest moments come early on, a gradual and undulating landscape becomes apparent across the breadth. Increasingly “folk” as the album evolves, the final track is entirely acoustic in its aesthetic and delivery.
Given the general sonic minimalism on display, forward momentum needs to come from somewhere, and the aural storytelling works quite well in this regard. That said, several songs do feel a little long for what they deliver in the dynamics department, stretching to a point where I start to wonder when things are going to be wrapped up. “Healing Rain of Day (Echoes of the Crescent Moon)" is 14 minutes, and brings lots of intriguing elements—the acoustic picking amidst morose whispers, harmonica, and low rumbles is a particularly nice touch, as is the whistling—but there’s a lot of space on this track wherein my mind tends to wander. In this sense, it’s a strong analogy for the season represented, but from an enjoyment perspective, the composition is definitely loose and languid--especially when compared to Robe of Snow’s sophomoric effort, the excellent The Frozen Choir. But that’s a story (and a review) for another day.
A final strength in Robe of Snow's arsenal is the ability to create a mood to compliment the landscape. This is, on the surface, a somber and morose affair--much like the visage of falling leaves and moldering grass. But despite the funereal vibe, there's a lightness and grace on display. It's a nice duality.
Is this Robes of Snow's best work? I'll tell you right now: no. Experience pays. But that hardly matters--the entire discography is stellar. All told, Autumn’s Stag and the Crescent Moon succeeds quite well at both establishing a world and maintaining an enjoyable listening experience throughout. If you're a well-versed fan of folky black metal, this will inevitably fall squarely into your wheelhouse. That said, if you are less familiar with the genre and its conventions, I can comfortably recommend that you give Robes of Snow a well-deserved listen.
Robes of Snow - Autumn’s Stag and the Crescent Moon was released April 29th, 2020 from Old Mill Productions (with physical copies coming soon.)
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!