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Impassable Fears Antonio Poscic , June 2nd, 2017 13:04

“The aim is to break boundaries and to find new horizons via the challenging of our own concepts of existence via the channels of musical trance. To me, it is like a contemporary way of Shamanism,” explains vocalist and black metal luminary Attila Csihar when asked about the motivation behind Impassable Fears, Gravetemple’s first release in eight years and the trio’s second proper full-length. But while most bands will funnel ideas of transcendental experiences and meditation into a discourse of zen-like, hallowed states of eudaemonia, drone-meister Stephen O’Malley, experimentalist Oren Ambarchi, and Csihar turn their gazes inwards, towards Lovecraftian horrors. Similar to what anthropologist Carlo Severi notes about the Kuna people, the basis of Gravetemple’s modern day shamanism becomes a vivid representation of human suffering exposed through a crushingly oppressive sonic language. They strive to make the anguish of human existence and the inevitable fear of death tangible, only to voyage beyond it.

And in their quest to depict a brutally terrific vision of the otherworldly and darkly enlightened, O’Malley, Ambarchi, and Csihar once again evolve their sound, morphing its seemingly well-defined formula of experimental drone. There are no sustained, patient buildups nor moments of lull that one might expect. Instead, the opening, bilingually named cut ‘A Szarka (The Magpie)’ starts in medias res as it stumbles forward, propelled by Ambarchi’s spasmodic drumming. It’s a chaotic affair that despite the rhythmic dynamism leaves plenty of space and a sense of depth hidden between sheets of distorted and manipulated guitar riffs — a familiar sound to Sunn O))) fans — punctuated by Csihar’s inhuman growls, hisses, and chanting in a mixture of Hungarian, English, and spells of glossolalia. While a displaced and dispersed tremolo, mimicking a human wail, will arise as a focus point and transform the track into something akin to raw black metal, it’s soon revealed as only a momentary glimpse of cohesion before the final dissolution.

The whole piece, and indeed much of the record, feels improvised, born out of an impromptu musical conversation and shared ritual. As if Gravetemple finally managed to capture on record those elements and spontaneity that make their live shows simply enthralling. The following cut, ‘Elavult Foldbolygo (World Out of Date)’, maintains a chimerical sense of urgency through a sparse arrangement of vocals — amplified by demonic, reverberating echoes — and undulating layers of screeching chords, string grinds, and suffocating noise. Its crawling inner flow carries over to ‘A Karma Karmai (Karmas Claws)’ and ‘Domino’, two surprisingly atmospheric compositions. The first a threateningly pulsing dark ambient exploration and the second an experimental electronic piece that, with its repeating tinkling patterns and plops, evokes Oren Ambarchi’s excellent solo record Hubris.

The album is closed by a point and counterpoint. The rumbling, expansive ‘Athatolhatatlan Felelmek (Impassable Fears)’ is plagued by growled whispers and tortured screams that make it a perfect companion to the existential horror of Can Evrenol’s Baskin or Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie’s The Void. Meanwhile, the ominous, lush miniature ‘Az Orok Vegtelen Uresseg (Eternal Endless Void)’ contrasts it with its open-ended conclusion. A suggestion that Gravetemple’s ritual might have no beginning nor end, even as the musicians lay down their instruments.

Because of the insistence on an almost persistent rhythmic foundation and their general metallic symbolism, on this album Gravetemple seemingly veer closer to death and black metal than ever before. Yet, Impassable Fears actually sees the band subvert metal tropes into incongruous structures, similar to the mockingly ecclesiastical power electronics of Theologian rather than the blasphemous black metal barrage of Csihar’s Mayhem or the sustained drone of O’Malley’s Sunn O))). By shifting from deceivingly fast to plodding tempos, from progressive to static movements, and from oppressively loud explosions towards silent meditations, the band maintains a sense of suspense and thrill, but also introduces a certain fragmentation in the otherwise densely packed music.

Having collaborated together for more than ten years, it's curious how O'Malley’s, Ambarchi’s, and Csihar's respective talents continuously (re)combine and clash, creating in Gravetemple a style considerably distanced from their other projects. As they push each other into unexplored terrains, we're gifted with demanding but feverishly alluring music that’s certain to fuel both nightmares and enriching experiences.