Vials of Wrath return with an interim ep to tide us all over until the next full length is released. Every superlative written about the first two VoW releases applies here, but there is even more as the overall tone seems a bit brighter and the compositions are structurally different giving a fresh sound that is still recognizable as VoW.
Atmospheric, ambient black metal is a genre that seems to combine incompatible elements and perhaps that is why when done well, it simply works. Vials of Wrath has continually supplied excellent music sine the first release, Seeking Refuge, which began in the fall of 2009 when DC Mills, wanted to write Bible-based music in the vein of atmospheric black metal similar to Agalloch, Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Drudkh. Those who follow the former Bloodline Severed guitarist on social media have undoubtedly seen the beautiful, raw, pictures Mills has taken of the Smoky Mountains and local forest and with those images in mind, the songs provide the perfect accompanying soundtrack, much like how Swedish/Norwegian black/death metal conjures up the images and feel of winter.
Ever the skeptic, I went into the first album thinking I was going to hate it, but found myself instantly drawn in and then with Days Without Names there was a further progression in everything that was good in Seeking Refuge. So, without knowing the backstory behind Ataraxia, my expectations were high and true to form, the only disappointment was that this is just a 3 song, 18 minute ep. Later I learned that this ep was actually older material that wasn’t ever going to be released. Sonically, the overall tone is much brighter than Seeking Refuge and Days Without Names and as Mills put it the songs “are not indicative of where I am currently.” Mills writes that “Ataraxia is heavily influenced by post rock/metal like Alcest, Deafheaven, Old Silver Key, and Drudkh to a lesser extent.” I would concur and add in post-hardcore like early Comrades as well. Acoustic clean and chiming guitars play a big role in the overall sound from the very beginning of “As the Shadows Grow Long” with the keyboards supplying some added depth to the sound and black metal near shrieking vocals providing some needed grittiness to the overall sound. As is the case with the other albums, the layers of sound are arranged in such a way that everything is clearly audible and the vocals which may be a bit harsh for some are somewhat muted. The multiple guitar lines allow one to almost substitute for vocals, an effect that Comrades used in their earlier material which was primarily instrumental. The song twists and turns in a similar manner as the subject matter as one reminisces and longs for the innocence of youth but realizing that it’s gone, finds comfort in “knowing the one who transcends every age”.
“Hands to the Plow” is the other longer song on the ep and it starts out with a drum roll and fast, melodic riff, in a much more straightforward opening than the first track. Lyrically, this track seems a natural progression from the first one as the speaker talks of finding treasure, “living in the now, knowing a divine purpose with my hands to the plow”. The chiming guitars that added a melancholy feel to the first track make a brief return but overall this track has a melodic groove to it emphasized by some parts of pounding drums and the overall faster rhythm that seems to be driving to a point, that surprisingly ends with the chiming guitars but in this case they provide a peaceful resolution to the song.
The sounds of a burbling brook provide the opening backdrop for the acoustic guitars in the ep’s closing track, “As the Shadows Grow Long, Pt. 2”, which in many ways mimics the opening track but incorporates the sounds of strings and stays to the acoustic side of things with multiple guitars layering in a complex, peaceful soundscape that brings me to the green forest and flowered fields so often pictured.
While this is older material from the Vials of Wrath archives, it is an interesting release that shows a different side of the project and yet remains unmistakably true to the rest of the releases. If you haven’t picked up any of the Vials of Wrath releases, this would be a great one to start with and if you have the others, you’ll certainly want this.
Written by John Jackson
1. As the Shadows Grow Long
2. Hands to the Plow
3. As the Shadows Grow Long, Pt. 2
Dempsey W. Mills – all instruments, vocals
Release Date: 21th August 2018
Record Label: Independent
Video for “Ataraxia” (Teaser)