Written by: Ancient Hand
“Blackgaze” is a term that immediately disgusts and turns off purists of straight forward, Satan-worshipping, formulaic black metal. The image of modern hipsters wearing skinny jeans while writing black metal in basements is stomach-churning to some who would rather imagine 90’s hipsters wearing skinny jeans while writing black metal in basements. “Blackgaze” is a term openly embraced by Canada’s Unreqvited. Tagged on the project’s new album, Empathica, is the controversial term itself. Additionally, the album is self-described to contain “shimmering blackgaze melodies and grandiose orchestral segments.”
The second part of this description, though, is where the innovation lies. We’ve all heard an album make use of beautiful guitar melodies paired with tremolo picking and relentless drumming, but Unreqvited’s ability to roll symphonic and orchestral elements into the music is quite groundbreaking when experienced on this new LP.
The self-described “orchestral segments” don’t even begin to cover these elements. Sure, the opening track is a stand-alone orchestral piece that raises the record to glistening mountain peaks, but these moments don’t stand alone. About 3 minutes into the second track, “Empathica II: Everwinter” we get glossy piano accompanying plucky guitars before a brief pause that dives back into the epic black metal moments. The vocals on this track see little variation, with repeated howls being distant in the mix, lending the song a truly epic and stately presence.
I’m incredibly happy to share that I don’t think this record excels in just one area; with some of Unreqvited’s previous releases, I felt the quieter moments far surpassed the louder. Here, they’re melded together so beautifully that they achieve a harmony and a dissonance. For instance, on “Empathica III: Innocence,” I was on the edge of my seat in the middle of the track. Where I figured the drums would offer a snare fill or tight groove, a looser, Tom-filled moment would occur, and I was very engaged, wondering how and when the crescendo would occur. (I won’t spoil the moment for you).
The rest of the album has the same strengths as these songs, though softer moments are given more space to offer solace. Some particularly fantastic moments that stick out to me are the outro on “Crystal Cascade,” the entirety of “The Permafrost,” and the plucky melody of the final cut, “Dreamer’s Hideaway.”
For all this, along with the fantastically hazy and flexible production, Empathica is a record worthy of its lofty descriptions; it is emotive, free-flowing, and succinct. It doesn’t just balance all its elements— it melts them together into an ethereal journey that it’s album cover accurately reflects with its high peaks and vibrant colors. It’s not your local elitist’s black metal, and it doesn’t want to be.
Unreqvited - Empathica was released May 22nd fromNorthern Silence Productions
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!