Released via Avantgarde Music, ’Mater Natura Excelsa’ is a split-release album featuring no less than 4 bands from different countries, each showcasing two tracks depicting their own unique views on nature and representing varied styles within the Black Metal genre.
The album kicks off with UK-based one-man Post-Black Metal project Sorrow Plagues. It’s a strong start, with the expansive, panoramic lead melodies you would expect to hear from the likes of such Post-Rock greats as Anathema and Gazpacho. What sets this apart is the typically Black Metal cold, harsh evocations of the vocals alongside blast-beats and shrilling harmonic guitar refrains. Both tracks toe the line between bleak melancholy and uplifting euphoria – even the titles themselves, ‘Vista’ & ‘Bloom’, evoke a positive reaction, which isn’t something you’d expect from any of the Black Metal genres. It really is quite extraordinary to experience a blend of opposing feelings & emotions at the same time, but somehow Sorrow Plagues manages to convey this perfectly, especially in the Grand Piano & String arrangements, which really take these songs to the next level. Production-wise, it’s slightly raw & hazy, but well-recorded with a sense of balance between all instruments. Nothing feels cluttered, in fact the mix feels open with an expansive stereo field to musically express the opening title’s ‘Vista’.
Tracks 3 & 4 (‘Insomnia’ & ‘Ascending’) come courtesy of Venezuelan duo De La Nostalgie, who are purveyors of traditional melodic Black Metal. Whilst the atmospheric breaks featured half-way through both tracks have a magical, enchanting quality, the rest of the track is a predictable affair. Standard, repetitive chord structures that rarely deviate or progress, fail to excite the senses and although the melodic arpeggios flutter above the supporting undercurrent, it is let down by poor production. The clipping of the instruments and poor compression / limiting of the final mix results in the synth pads & melodies wavering along with the cracking distortion of the percussion & guitars. Whilst old-school, underground Black Metal is renowned for it’s signature lo-fi production, this feels less deliberate and more due to a lack of care in the mastering process. This appears to be evident when hearing the subtle, atmospheric points in each track, where no Metal instrumentation is present, as the instrumentation suddenly has clarity & warmth without any clipping or distortion – a shame really. Overcome the mastering problems and these songs will shine – as it stands now, one or two play-throughs and I’m done.
Recently resurfaced Russian duo Elderwind are up next with ‘Temple’ & ‘Fires of Autumn’. It’s been six long years since their debut album was released back in 2012 and they have been quiet since then. The resulting work on this split album is similarly lo-fi in nature to De La Nostalgie, however the instrumentation has much more room to breathe and the suffers none of the same clipping issues since volumes haven’t been pushed to overkill. Atmospherically, both tracks really shine, sonically sharing the uplifting, panoramic vibes that Sorrow Plagues opened with. It’s easy to be swept away to another reality, particularly with the delicate, almost cosmic tone to the electronic elements. Highly progressive and intricately composed, there is a strong musical journey-like narrative being told.
Closing the album we have Dreams Of Nature, another one-man project, this time hailing from Columbia . Bell-like synths and the sound of rain kicks off the first track, entitled ‘Infinity’, before shifting sharply into a harsh, cold lo-fi Black Metal barrage, which has a very strong similarity to that of Summoning. Whilst the dreamy synths play an enchanting melody over the top of the extreme undercurrent, it feels rather disjointed, like two completely different compositions have been jammed together much like a mash-up of two independently written songs. The vocals are strikingly abstract, consisting mostly of whoops and incoherent banshee-like screams. Personally I don’t really feel the vocals add much to either track, in fact they actually detract from the atmosphere and would rather they both be instrumental. The musical passages of ‘Infinity’ quickly become repetitive, however there is much more development in ‘When The Leaves Fall’, making it by far the stronger and more absorbing of the two.
As a complete body of work, there is enough material to make Mater Natura Excelsa a worthy purchase for fans of Atmospheric Black Metal and Post-Black Metal, though it’s definitely a mixed bag both technically and in terms of production. At its strongest the music carries the listener away on a panoramic, nature-inspired musical journey, but at its worst the album becomes plagued by a poor, muddy & distorted mix and long, repetitive passages. Some material has the ability to immediately grab attention or grow on the listener over time with repeated listens, whilst others fall short on quality to the point I personally find myself skipping those tracks. With that said, I’d recommend listening to the album before committing.
My personal highlights are both of the Sorrow Plagues tracks, Elderwind’s ‘Fires Of Autumn’ and Dreams of Nature’s ‘When Leaves Fall’.