Since I started writing for From Corners Unknown, I have reviewed everything that Ruins of Beverast has released and with gusto. I can barely hold back my excitement when I get the announcement that Alexander von Meilenwald is announcing a new release. The Thule Grimoires is the first full-length he has released since Exuvia and as usual, von Meilenwald cannot help but deliver something fresh and utterly awe-inspiring each and every time. This album in some ways is much less cacophonic and maddening than most other previous Ruins of Beverast releases but no less satisfying. Although the record features the typical cavernous and psychedelic quality that has come to be a hallmark of von Meilenwald’s sound, there are more clean singing parts and refrains which are elements not too commonly associated with the act but I can confidently say, are a welcome addition.
If anything, I would say the new elements added provide the music with a more sophisticated quality, making it feel metered and gradual in its progression. I generally describe the band as being schizophrenic and assigning qualities to it such as that of a supernatural maelstrom, looming terrifyingly yet bewitching at the same time. This time around, the music feels less outwardly antagonistic and more inwardly reflective. The music still has dark and heavy moments, but the atmosphere is one of rumination rather than ruination. The album took me a few listens to get my head around, mainly due to the sixty-nine-minute run time (nice!) but after extended listening sessions, I feel I have at least partially started to digest it. Most tracks on the album run for at least ten minutes though there are a few that don’t quite make that time. Due to the progressive nature of the music and lengthy tracks, it is sometimes hard to tell if you are into a new song or a new section and this is obfuscating, to say the least. This is one of the elements that stay true to Ruins of Beverast’s discography. The addition of clean vocal refrains does however help to locate ourselves in the music, more so than in other releases.
As the album opens up with “Ropes Into Eden”, we are hit with some trippy guitar sounds which seem to be put through a slicing effect, followed by some of the most straight-up black metal I have ever heard from this act. Although I initially stated that this album is less heavy in general, you would be excused for not believing me considering how the album kicks off. There is a fantastic drum fill that accents an unusual part of the bar in this intro section that I particularly love. This section is hypnotic even though it is more in your face compared to the usual fare from this band. Just after the 3:30 mark, mysterious and distant guitars play occultish leads that transition us into the unsettling and subdued atmospheric section. As desolate guitars play strange high-pitched frequencies, toms accent the soundscape, and indecipherable voices mutter hidden secrets. As the musical dynamics return, the lead guitar is both alluring yet full of sorrow. This is the track’s cathartic wind-swept peak and it is fantastic. Shortly after we hear the first clean vocal line of the album, it is bleak and broken-hearted; the lyrics that I can make out, forlorn and downcast. The finale of the piece uses some material from earlier on but also introduces a new lead part that draws us slowly to the pronounced conclusion. I knew this album would not be disappointing, but I didn’t expect to be infatuated before the first track had ended.
“The Tundra Shrines” opens with an unusually major-key sounding progression, that slowly dips in and out of this brighter quality until the vocals enter, and then the song becomes much moodier. The guttural, throaty vocals sound demonic and otherworldly prefacing some alluring melodic riffs. Clean vocals once again enter the mix in an almost drawling, morose quality. At 05:48 the music bursts into a stoner doom style riff that is simple but combined with a strange repeated vocal effect that imbues a spellbinding quality to the music. It is also a fantastic contrast to the rest of the track. I must mention that the melodic work on this album is phenomenal, whether it be lead guitar, melodic riffs, or vocals, the melodies are transcendent. All of the clean vocals on this album are exceptional and although at first, some might feel discordant after repeated listens, they become a defining feature that I keep coming back for. The melodies linger in my head like some nostalgic echo.
“Kromlec’h Knell” has another great uplifting major-key section in the middle of the piece that is so triumphant it is almost seraphic. This soon becomes contrasted by the diabolic vocals that enter just after. The lead in this section is another one of those melodies that is both uplifting yet gloomy at the same time, a common feature of this album.
“Mammothpolis” is a more subdued affair; synth-laden and slow. It’s nearly ambient (for the most part) with more fantastic melodies breaking out of the mix towards the song’s centre. The piece almost serves as a palate cleanser, reducing the dynamics, bringing you in closer as you strain your ears to hear, before shifting into riffs and chants. The heavier section towards the end I would tentatively describe as having a heavy rock quality to it, reminiscent of popular metal/rock acts of the 2000s.
“Anchoress in Furs” opens with powerful and interesting female vocals (or at least I think so). The texture is sublime and creepy and has an almost Middle Eastern aesthetic. The chorus of this song gives me goosebumps, the lyrics Parnassian, the emotions palpable. This might well be the best part of the entire album and possibly because of that, my favourite track too. Just after 46 seconds, the intro riff returns but is layered with strange, buried guitars/synths that add to the unsettling harmonic quality the song exudes. Just before 07:47 we hear another one of those incredible melodies that I keep going on about, seemingly harmonic minor. The transition into a more rhythmic riff under this same melodic phrase is mystical.
The opening drum groove of “Polar Hiss Hysteria” is another highlight as it seems to alternate between nine and ten beats in a bar while also alternating the ride placement. In the nine-beat part, the ride seems to play on the on-beat then on the off-beat in the following section. This syncopation is groovy yet complex which is a fine line to stride when writing technical music, von Meilenwald pulls it off expertly. We also hear more alternating tonal shifts from major to minor in this track which is another great feature of the record.
A final mention goes to “Deserts To Bind And Defeat”. The opening vocals pull on the heart strings while moving into classic, non-stoner, doom sounds. The track concludes with an extended set of sustained doomy chords that let us reflect on this magnum opus of a release. There are so many other parts that stand out that I wish I could mention, but before my review gets as long as the album, I’ll conclude without further ado.
The Thule Grimoires met all of my expectations and surpassed them. If not album of the year it will, without a doubt, be on the list, though I will gladly embrace any release that tries to reach the cloud-tipped mountain peak that this album sets as a bar.
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You can grab a digital copy of The Thule Grimoires over on The Ruins of Beverast Bandcamp page. Vinyl is available on Nuclear Blast and CDs over at 20 Buck Spin. You can also listen over on Spotify, though for some reason I do not seem to see the new release in full up on there yet.