Sear Bliss - Letters from the Edge - (9/10)
Published on December 17, 2018
Back to the roots
The tale of Sear Bliss is an almost tragic one. They rose to fame as a melodic black metal band with the inclusion of a trombone with their debut Phantoms in 1996 and developed into one of the best bands of their ilk over the next five albums including 2007’s The Arcane Odyssey, expanding on their sound while still staying close to their core. Then five years passed, main man András Nagy moved to Amsterdam and in 2012 Eternal Recurrence hit and it was a departure from the classic Sear Bliss sound, taking on a far more progressive character, with a lot more dissonance, adding a jazz influence to the songs, which rubbed a lot of old-time fans the wrong way.
Now six years after and with Letters From the Edge, fans were not sure anymore what to expect, but were bracing for a continuation of the more progressive direction. And it did turn out to be a disappointment – for the people who were hoping for exactly that, because their seventh effort is (almost) a return to former glories. Almost, because the Hungarians are not just happy with regurgitating what they had done before, but forge ahead by taking a step back, as odd as this may read. All the trademarks are still there, up to the trombone, but things are not the same. Now some of these shifts could easily be explained by the fact that Nagy is the last survivor of the Eternal Recurrence line up, with both trombonist Zoltán Pál and guitarist Attila Kovács returning, plus two brand new faces on guitars and drums.
After the acoustic intro “Crossing the Frozen River”, “Forbidden Doors”’ start is the most pure black metal that Sear Bliss has sounded in a long time, but after two minutes they start to introduce their trademark variety, both in speeds and also the first shot of the trombone, ringing in a very varied and dynamic sound that manages to counter the cold black metal of the beginning with everything down to a beautifully calm, atmospheric passages for a great starting point for the album. Both the jazzy influences and the clear vocals are gone, but in the grand scheme of things they don’t need either of them.
The dynamics on Letters From the Edge are excellent, driving the songs forward and it also contains a great deal of atmosphere that the Hungarians are using to their advantage, which in conjunction with the trombone creates a very different character than Eternal Recurrence. The arpeggiated guitars of “A Mirror in the Forest”leading into a dense, slow and atmospheric track that greatly benefits from the extended use of the trombone for the most effect, a definitive highlight of the album.
Be it the brooding “Abandoned Peaks”, the post metal-touched “Haven” or the very dynamic “The Main Divide”, which is mainly in slow tempos, but with more faster passages to actually emphasize the slower ones, Letters From the Edge goes from strength to strength until the 10+ minute “Leaving Forever Land” hits. Taking up the same slow tempo as the previous track, it plods along and despite a blastbeat outbreak and a totally calm passages it lacks the dynamics that especially a song of this length would need to keep it interesting. Not a bad track by any means, but if one looks at the quality surrounding it, it just leaves the listener wanting. As example, closing “Shroud” also is slow, but displays far more atmosphere to make it a very worthy closer for the album.
Some people might mourn the loss of the jazz and progressive elements as a whole, but Letters From the Edge is a very welcome return to the sound that had shaped this band into the powerhouse it is (again). It feels as if the ship is back on course and the little post metal touch might indicate a potential avenue to explore while maintaining the core of their sound. Either way, Sear Bliss are back and they are back in style, not hopefully it will not take another six years for the next album…