Beautiful, haunting, dark, melodic, emotional and heavy atmospheric black metal returns in the latest release from Vials of Wrath with Days Without Names serving as a worthy successor to the debut Seeking Refuge. Days Without Names will be of the most musically different and diverse albums you’ll likely hear this year and one that keeps your attention as it transports you through the wilderness and different seasons of life.
Vials of Wrath first release, Seeking Refuge, began to emerge as a project 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 and was inspired by solo acts including Ihsahn, Burzum, Xasthur and others. Drawing inspiration from nature and writing lyrics from a Christian perspective, Mills’ goal is to honor the Creator and not creation.
I was first exposed to Vials of Wrath when I received Seeking Refuge to review, and my conclusion to that review was, “In the end, there is so much good here that this is one of those albums that will get a lot of play.” The combination of styles and sounds and how they were interwoven seamlessly in that album really drew me in as a listener. Days Without Names is a further progression in everything that was good in Seeking Refuge. The album starts out with the haunting instrumental “That Which I’ve Beheld” with its multiple clean melodic guitars and soft keyboards providing atmosphere that becomes a stronger and more forceful toward the middle of the song before easing back into brighter territory toward the end. This same strategy is employed later in the album’s other instrumental track “Silhouettes Against the Sun”.
“Journey of the Flesh” brings in the black metal side of things with a pounding drum beat being joined by the droning, drill-like guitar sounds characteristic of Scandinavian bands that quickly shifts into fast double-bass driven black metal. Atmospheric keyboards add distinctive color and feel to the song, corresponding to the imagery in the lyrics of being beneath a “canopy of oak and pine” to “tread amongst fallen leaves” on an “October eve” all the while having sorrows lifted in the presence of the Divine. The song speaks to the peaceful, quiet cold of the forest in the fall and the music takes the listener on that journey. Some might wonder how that can happen with the raspy, shriek-like black metal vocals for the song but they are mixed brilliantly to where they add to the atmosphere and blend with everything else, providing texture but not overpowering the music.
“Revival of the Embers” again starts out with clean guitars before some black metal riffs come in, followed shortly by the vocals. Throughout the song there is a somewhat catchy melody playing along that carries the song along and can invoke some head bobbing. On its own, this song can serve as a good introduction to Vials of Wrath as it has catchy melodies, black metal guitars, drums, and vocals, atmospheric keyboards, and even some acoustic guitar all woven together into a song that describes a renewal of faith in one who sees his heart has grown cold and wants to revive that fire. In the end the voice in the song describes being made pure by fiery trial and the song ends with the black metal fading to acoustic guitars and keyboards, which ultimately fade to the sounds of a crackling fire.
“Burning Autumn Leaves (Under a Harvest Moon)” is the one track on the album where all the stops were pulled out and Mills brought in some great musicians to add their touch to the song, including Michael Cook (A Hill to Die Upon) on drums, Derek Corzine (Whispers from Heaven/Blood Thirsty) for a blistering guitar solo, and Aaron Macemore (Bloodlined Severed) to provide some vocals. By now the calm opening and great acoustic guitar in the beginning should be no surprise to the listener, but the acoustic guitar and keyboards really are quite impressive. Once the feedback comes in, the heavy guitars and low clean vocals that open the song add a more menacing tone that is carried through the verse as vocals shift to low death growls and then through the shriek-like vocals that warns those “servants of twilight, there is a coming dawn”. The imagery evoked by the music is a strong suit for Vials of Wrath and the added musicians incorporated their talents within the song and overall framework of the Vials of Wrath sound in a manner that makes this track rather distinctive.
Interestingly, most of the songs on the album are long, over seven minutes and one over nine, but as a listener, you don’t get fatigued as the songs go through so many progressions that it’s easy to forget where the song started. “The Path Less Oft Tread” comes to mind as a good example of this as roughly the first half of the song is a beautiful instrumental that transitions into a black metal song only to later transition into a more traditional metal song complete with driving riff and drums. By the time all of these shifts are complete, eight and half minutes have elapsed and the listener has been on a journey where nearly three complete songs have been integrated into one piece.
Many of the melodies that provide the foundation for the songs on Days Without Names have that familiar feel to them and when they carry throughout the song in an obvious way like in the closing track “A Cleansing Prayer” the listener can almost not even notice the black metal over the top. Fittingly, however, toward the end of the song the black metal comes to forefront as the voice in the song pleads with the Creator,
Purge me, Adonai, of desire and lust
Lless of me more of thee
May all my glory be thine
Empty me of self…of self
Once again Vials of Wrath have delivered an album that has the feel to it that it is more than just a collection of songs. The album is a journey through darkened forests and internal struggles set to haunting melodies and driving black metal in lush arrangements. Much like Seeking Refuge, this is an album where “there is so much good here that this is one of those albums that will get a lot of play.” Not only does the album work as a whole, providing an almost concept-album like experience, but the individual songs and flow are strong enough that the story could be started at any point and still make sense.
Written by John Jackson
01. That Which I’ve Beheld (Instrumental)
02. Journey Beyond The Flesh
03. Revival Of The Embers
04. Burning Autumn Leaves (Under A Harvest Moon)
05. The Path Less Oft Tread
06. Silhouettes Against The Sun (Instrumental)
07. A Cleansing Prayer
DC Mills – all instruments, vocals
Michael Cook (A Hill to Die Upon) – Drums on “A Cleansing Prayer” and “Burning Autumn Leaves”
Derek Corzine (Whispers from Heaven/Blood Thirsty) – Guitar solo on “Burning Autumn Leaves”
Aaron Macemore (Bloodline Severed) – Vocals on “Burning Autumn Leaves”
“Vials of Wrath” EP (2011)
Vials of Wrath / War Frozen, Split (2011)
“Seeking Refuge” EP (2013) [review]
Record Label: Independent, Sept. 2015
Stream for “A Cleansing Prayer”