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Stumbling upon this album by chance, I was entranced by the medieval-esque cover art, as well as the band logo which strongly reminded me of something that I could not pinpoint. Upon first play of the intro guitar riff my interest was more than piqued. Still, as the songs kept succeeding each other I was aware of a semblance, which was finally made concrete: Ustalost’s music is of a quite similar vein with Yellow Eyes. It was soon revealed that the only band member is Will Skarstad, the New Yorkers’ guitarist and frontman, while the Ustalost logo proved to be quite similar to an inverted version of one of the cathedral windows that grace “Sick With Bloom’s” cover. All the puzzle pieces satisfactorily placed, I was able to return to the album, which had me quite intrigued after the first spin.
The mind behind Ustalost and Yellow Eyes being the same, there are certain similarities between these two bands’ music that are easily grasped: vocals are obviously of a similar hue, passionate and howling; guitar riff logic is dominated by a turbulent pattern, ripe with angst and fury (though here the former eclipses the latter, much more than in Yellow Eyes – a thing probably done willfully, since the band’s name means «fatigue» in Russian), yet not with much expansive variety; the guitars remain within certain frames (though I think that they are a bit more complex than the Yellow Eyes ones), as riffs leak from one track to another, creating a cohesive whole, at the expense of individual song character. While the dark majesty of the De Mysteriis-like first riff is not met again in the album, atmosphere is plentiful in here. Guitar turbulence is entwined with tremulous, fragile and starry ambient keyboard melodies, while the bass, being much more evident than in Yellow Eyes, adds a tone of warm volume that builds up the mystique. While the overall album is of a mid-tempo essence, leaning towards the creation of a feeling of futile wandering through seas of despair, there are some blastbeat moments which create small beacons of exodus: whether they lead towards salvation or oblivion is up to the listener.
The spoor of vipers that is referenced in the title could well be linked to the album guitar work: they are the tracks of the quite addictive guitar riffs that, like vipers in their nest, criss-cross the record. And as a nest, the album is best viewed as a whole, and not as independent songs; even the track titles (I to VI) are supportive of the single-entity idea. It may sound repetitive in certain moments, especially to one who has listened to Yellow Eyes, yet it stands well next to the main band albums, as a less edgy, and somewhat more complex version of them. A solid release, especially debut-wise, which will hopefully turn a tad darker on the next step (yes, I am still haunted by the album’s intro guitar riff).