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Black Lotus - "Harvest of Seasons" (CD)

Black Lotus - "Harvest of Seasons" CD cover image

"Harvest of Seasons" track listing:

1. Prelude
2. Signatura Rerum
3. Statues in Auburn
4. Of Pathless Woods
5. Terra Hiberna
6. Wreath of the Triumphant Sun
7. Awaken the Season of Old
8. The Fallow Earth

Reviewed by on January 29, 2009

"They sound ready to burn their city down and plant a haunted forest."

Victoria, the manicured retirement haven on Canada's winterless southwest coast, isn't the first place you'd look for fog shrouded skull ziggurats or gray robed monks with crow's heads. But with Black Lotus as the city's newest and most innovative black metal band we might expect their debut LP “Harvest Of Seasons” to undermine the order of things.

“Harvest of Seasons” is the work of a six piece group with a taste for ominous folk-inflected soundscapes and a core of howling, cacophonous, take-no-prisoners black metal. For a young band their sound is remarkably well realized. Black Lotus is an excellent, interesting development in the new wave of Cascadian pagan black metal, alongside Pacific Northwest fellows like Wolves In The Throne Room and Agalloch.

The album's prelude is deceptively simple, with a folky pattern of acoustic guitar developing alongside an ultra-low and bloated drone that fades in and out. At two minutes, the soundscape's hardly excessive; it exists to establish equilibrium for the first full band track to shatter.

“Signatura Rerum” certainly achieves that goal, roaring in with a mean, convoluted riff that's prickly enough for a Meshuggah album, and pairing it with hypnotic growling vocals. Thirty seconds in the band fades to a momentary hush of swirling keyboards, and then gets ferocious again, setting the album's tone. The effect is of multiple songs splintering against each other, or an extended, unpredictable composition with loads of tiny parts. Call it black metal's venomous answer to Yes.

“Signatura Rerum” and the third track, “Statues of Auburn,” have very similar vocal performances of traditional howls interspersed with a clean, plaintive tenor. The melodies in the clean singing are all very similar, and could use some diversity throughout the album, but Black Lotus is certainly more focused on generating a mesmeric rush than writing hit singles. The drumming on “Statues of Auburn” is dense and propulsive, which is crucial to the song's success. It's agile, never shows off, constantly in the pocket, and evolving in time with every other instrument.

The production on “Harvest of Seasons” has some excellent nuances, like the flat throb on the martial/tribal drumming that opens “Of Pathless Woods.” The instruments tend to blur together at high velocity, which is a fairly standard black metal gambit, focusing listeners on the song's overall effect rather than any particular instrumental performance. Black Lotus is more about interplay than individual virtuosity. There's some excellent musicianship here, but certainly no solos. Instead, the speed and intricacy of the songs are used to create a powerful emotional whole.

“Terra Hiberna” first feels like the soundtrack for a bonfire dance ceremony, then stretches and distorts its rhythm. It eventually breaks out into strange and haunting clean vocals, which are probably the most effective clean vocals on the album. Alongside a few classic black metal beat downs, there's a powerful bridge with some very post rock-influenced guitar and drum interplay, a little like Volta Do Mar playing a show in the middle of a Transylvanian forest. It's probably the best song on the album, and certainly the most epic, with every aspect of the band's music fusing.

“Wreath of the Triumphant Sun” features some magnificent, blurry old-school black metal blast beats and truly haunting riffs. The clean vocals in the center of the song feel misplaced; with plaintiveness at odds with the churning guitars, but then hypnotic guitar patterns and deep, thudding drums bring the song back on track.

The seventh track, “Awaken the Season of Old,” features some strong use of dissonance and interesting play between the two guitars, but doesn't have much to distinguish it from the two monstrous cuts that precede it. Some of the album's most unrestrained and extreme vocals can be found on “The Fallow Earth.” It's a definite throat shredder, with lean and muscular riffs to back it. The bridge features some truly interesting, jangling guitar work in a segment that ends far too quickly, but the song doesn't even let up during the fade-out as it sounds like the band could continue for hours.

Incredibly deviant bands have a way of emerging from Victoria, from jazzpunk gods Nomeansno to the freakishly underappreciated hip-hop Cyborg Wedding Band. Despite the city's better known tradition of saccharine indie and pop-punk, there's a shadow tradition that despises everything the main scene stands for. Black Lotus is real metal from a town that can't bear metal. They sound like they're ready to burn it down and plant a haunted forest.

Highs: Powerful interplay creating a great balance between traditional black metal assault and ambient folk.

Lows: Some songs fluctuate so much they seem to lack a center.

Bottom line: A wicked new addition to the pagan black metal scene of the Pacific Northwest.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)