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The Moon Lit Our Path J.J. Anselmi , June 17th, 2015 08:58

If, instead of writing and recording Leviathan, Brann Dailor and Brent Hinds of Mastodon decided to form an instrumental black metal duo, it might've sounded similar to Tempel. Last year, the Phoenix-based band's self-recorded and released debut, On The Steps Of The Temple, deservingly became a critical success after being re-released by Prosthetic. The album is a feat of technical ferocity, pulverising you with cold black metal while also exhibiting a masterful sense of dynamics. Guitarist/keyboarder/producer Ryan Wenzel and drummer Rich Corle pack more into each of their songs than most bands do in an entire album.

With only one year between releases, it would be easy to mistakenly assume that Tempel's new LP, The Moon Lit Our Path, wouldn't be as fierce as their debut. Thankfully, not only does the album attain the same heights of bestial, post-metal wizardry, but it also utilises more changes and subtle instrumentation. The Moon Lit Our Path also lends itself more to narrative, often placing the listener in the parched desert that Tempel calls home.

The album opens with 'Carvings In The Door.' After Wenzel encircles you with thick guitar notes and a haze of eerie synth, he and Corle launch into a grooving, black metal assault. Wenzel's guitar tone is both tar-soaked and defined, allowing each riff to bear its venomous teeth. Pushed by Corle's mercuric drumming, Tempel unleashes a thrashing flood, after which they deftly traverse into Entombed-style death rock. All of this happens in the first quarter of this 8:22 composition; and the remainder is equally stunning.

The second song and title track begins with a shattering, malevolent breakdown. Utilising their brilliant sense of structure, Tempel then tell the story of a tragic battle by building into an oddly metered funeral waltz that quickly gets enveloped by tremolo guitar. 'The Moon Lit Our Path' eventually develops into a maniacal gallop, utilising equal parts from Darkthrone and Pelican. On this song, as well as throughout the rest of the album, Tempel find that rare balance of putting in enough changes to defy listener expectation while also letting the music breathe and develop.

On the next three songs, the band explores new territory by brilliantly integrating acoustic guitar. The 12:20 'Descending Into The Labyrinth' starts out as a blackened deluge and slowly morphs into a Western-tinged epic. Over a circular tapestry of acoustic fingerpicking, Wenzel plays a soaring solo that evokes images of tumbleweeds flitting across massive expanses of nothingness. Corle has a keen sense of when to lay back and let his drumming serve the composition, which he does by playing minimal-yet-driving quarter notes on a floor tom. Tempel soon evolves into plodding black metal, allowing the Western elements of the song to coalesce with their signature blend of metallic warfare.

In a way, Tempel's two albums are sides of the same coin. On The Steps Of The Temple speaks of the cruel and violent beginnings of an ancient city that lies at the foot of immense cliffs. The Moon Lit Our Path returns the listener to this city, but after a millennia of turmoil and violence. Now, the civilisation has crumbled and the surrounding mountains have eroded, leaving only the desert.