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I am somewhat torn over anarchistic black metal. Though I find much common ground between the political ideas of most such groups and my own, I consider the overall musical essence of this particular subgenre scene usually underwhelming. I think that the problem lies both with the music per se (despite the fact that there are some semi-exceptions, as certain Panopticon and Iskra songs, I can not bring my self to whole-heartedly recommend the totality of an album, even from one of the two aforementioned bands) and with the “grounding” of these bands’ art to the contemporary, the vernacular, the everyday, through the use of blatant political themes in song lyrics and/or titles. Black metal for me is first and foremost associated with other-worldliness; an aura of obscure, intangible mystique, eldritch past and secrets unnameable is at its aesthetic core. Thus, replacing arcane obscurity or imaginative past reminiscence with down-to-earth contemporary issues results in a grounded, and not so phantasmagorical art form, hovering above and beyond the mundane. That’s why I was pretty surprised when I discovered Book Of Sand, a US black metal act from Minneapolis, which, though unequivocally anarchistic, retains in its latest opus that spark that is missing from most of the artists of this particular sub-genre: ominousness; the “occult” in the album title is not just décor left over from the genre conventions.
Agile guitar movement, circular, with just-the-right-echo riffs, which are steeped both in the second wave majesty, as well as the heavy tradition, as it was perfectly distilled by Negative Plane. The band is not afraid of romanticism melodies, and in moments (like in a large part of “Crumbling Palaces”) it is almost reminiscent of metal noir quebecois, as far as decadent past epicness is concerned. Throughout the album the guitar is by far the dominant entity (though listen to the bass pulses on “A Prayer Of Darkness”), elegantly charting the elaborate waters of composition through strokes of well-versed-in-the-masters genius. This elegance, when coupled with riff content dark as an-attic-by-midnight, creates the core black metal atmosphere – that of ominous, occult, pavilions.
There are certain shortcomings. The riffs, though highly inspired, are perchance repeated a bit too much, struggling variation-wise; some songs could even be considered as improvisation exercises upon a certain theme; vocals are of a run-of-the-mill quality, though certainly not annoying. Yet they all tend to be minor flaws, easily cast aside by the album’s sheer nefarious mane. Herein lies atmosphere that many, so-called occult bands would love to permeate their works. This is an album that one can listen to and feel the blood falling upon the grains of sand as the ritual is performed. This is black metal done right, dark, slithering, raw, menacing, otherworldly.