Spectral Wound is a five-piece black metal act hailing from the frigid north, also known as Montreal, Quebec in Canada. A Diabolic Thirst is not particularly new when it comes to sound, but it is, without a doubt, a deluge of depressive yet cathartic sounding music that bolsters the soul, albeit in its own dark and chaotic way. The music is frenzied but it is countered by the melodic guitar work. The harmonic texture has an uplifting quality while also managing to feel frigid and melancholic throughout.
If I am going to make any upfront criticisms of the act, I would have to say that the song titles seem a bit silly. Now I know I am the guy who reviews a lot of black metal so I am no stranger to ridiculous song titles; however, this album seems to be straddling the line between serious and comical at times. The first obvious offender is the album art, which is both dramatic and corny, but once diving into songs titled “Imperial Saison Noire”, “Frigid and Spellbound”, and “Soul Destroying Black Debauchery”, I’m starting to wonder if these are tongue-in-cheek or deadly serious. At first glance, this all leaves me slightly unsure of the overall intention. This is the point where I generally check the lyrics to help me along with my evaluation but as is to be expected, no lyrics are readily available. Although this is far from a deal breaker, I do find the imagery, song titles, and music to be slightly at odds. That being said, once we get into the music there is no fucking around to be found.
The album starts with the obligatory black metal trope; the sound of a fire burning: classic. Without hesitation a manic drum fill is heard, followed closely by a blood curdling scream, feverish blast beats, and melodic guitar work. Although not the most unique music I have ever heard, it just hits me right in the feels. It is sorrowful, yet victorious. The vocals buried deep within the music, as if the last herald calls of a person dragged to hell. The melodies on the guitar shift subtly but beautifully while the rhythm is unrelenting; a pounding, hellish cacophony. I love the audible breath we hear at 2:11. At 3:10 we are delivered a subtle respite in the form of a half-time feel in the rhythm while an ominous, purposeful lead seeps out from within the darkness. As the track reaches its conclusion, the texture seems to grow thicker and thicker. The vocals reach levels of insanity; horrific and ungodly, before breaking into a flashy solo, teeming with chops and fast arpeggios. The track goes into a reprise of a previous section before screeching to a halt, leaving you feeling dirty and out of breath.
“Frigid and Spellbound” opens up with a lyrical, tremolo guitar riff before the drums once again break in the maddened quality they espouse for most of the album. As the band kicks into overdrive I am struck by the conviction with which the performance is delivered, once again sending chills down my spine. I love the contrasting quality of beautiful harmony and disturbed vocals and drums. This contrast seemingly adds to the feeling of yearning that exudes from this track. It seems to long for something lost, something that may never be found again, but something we should not cease seeking, lest we be left a soulless hollow husk. The guitar harmonies heard at 2:30 are an odd light in the darkness, unexpected yet relieving. This harmony appears multiple times throughout the piece, providing more of that contrasting quality that I was going on about. Four minutes in we are greeted with acoustic guitar dripping with longing, tinged with folky sentiments. As the full band returns the music hits your ears like a wave of purest intensity, ripping your soul from your body as you follow the vocalist down to the depths of river Styx. The drums blast furiously while melodic guitars hold the tremoring piece together, the vocalist set on ripping it apart. The finale of this piece assaults every inch of your senses before disappearing like a puff of cigarette smoke in autumn. In fact, autumn turning to winter is an image that constantly comes to mind while I listen to this album. The rain, the drums pelting onto a steel roof, the vocals, howls and cries of the wind, the guitars are the rickety shelter you cower in, seeking refuge from the awe-inspiring yet destructive force that surrounds you.
The track “Mausoleal Drift” is worth mentioning due to its funereal, dirge-like introduction. The title is perhaps the least ridiculous of the lot (though that is a hard decision to make) and aptly matches the quality of the track. I picture drifting down a raging river, water black, fog hiding anything an arms length away. You are floating atop a wooden coffin that is rotting and breaking apart, as thick cold water seeps into your boots. It is dark, you are scared. The current picks up and before long you are flying headfirst down rapids, smashing into rocks as you are thrown around the coffin, splinters sliding into your skin as you skid onto the floor. You hear the roaring only seconds before you are flung into an empty blackness that has no end.
One more notable element of the album is the occasionally second-wave black metal feel that seeps out of the songs. It never lasts too long, but it is a fitting homage to the bands of old, though hopefully only in sound. The production on the album is fantastically crisp and warm while managing to still feel heavy where it needs to. This is something Spectral Wound and old black metal bands do not have in common.
I would not describe this album as particularly progressive in style. Each song is more or less similar in feel and style with a slight variety of mood, texture, and tempo, but not noticeably that any song stands out as particularly different. A half-time here, an acoustic break there but that is OK. There is no single musical quality that is objectively more important than another, and in the case of this album, I feel although it isn’t changing the game when it comes to black metal; it is delivering a powerful, emotive record that speaks to me on so many levels. Highly recommended, particularly if you like feeling sad and being assaulted at the same time.
* * * * * *
You can grab a digital copy of A Diabolic Thirst over on the Spectral Wound Bandcamp page as well as CDs. Vinyl can also be found over at the Profound Lore website. You can also listen to it over on Spotify.