Of The Sign...
Review by Fernando on March 4, 2023.
It's been a very good half decade for USBM, be it from veterans coming back with great albums, or a new generation making themselves known, and in 2023, we have the return of Spirit Possession, the duo of S. Peacock and A. Spungin and their sophomore record Of the Sign…, released by Profound Lore Records.
Spirit Possession first appeared on the scene in 2020 with their fierce and utterly deranged self-titled debut, a record that displayed black metal that was equal parts vintage, savage and ominously psychedelic, with nothing but guitar, drums, and handmade synthesizers. The band truly impressed with their off the wall style, and while it didn’t display anything particularly new, it was so well executed that it didn’t matter. So, after 3 years, the band return and sure enough, they do what all good bands with a very specific sound do after shocking and awing, keep building on top of what worked. From the get-go Spirit Possession reintroduce themselves with their strengths, disturbing synthesizer soundscapes, frenzied riffage, demented vocals and precise drumming, all well and good, but the main difference with this record is the improvement in production, the sound is crisp and engrossing in a good way, and the band and sound engineer extraordinaire and fellow unorthodox black metal player, Colin Marston did an excellent job in maintaining the savagery of Spirit Possession’s music intact, and also making it more impactful, the drums in particular sound the best, not only do you hear how proficient A. Spungin is behind the kit, but also how vicious she is, everything from blast-beats, d-beats, to more technical rhythms are heard, and especially felt.
The production also did wonders for S. Peacock’s string violation and his vocals, if there’s one gripe I had with their debut is how the vocals were drenched in reverb which coupled with the grittier production had the vocals too distant and echoing, and that was thoroughly corrected here, as S. Peacock’s voice is present and eligible in the mix, and it doesn’t overpower, nor does it fade with the instruments. Continuing with the instrumentation, aside from her astounding drumming, A. Spungin is also an expert noise merchant, as her hand-made synthesizers and effects are much more present and even more unhinged, she enhances the music with eerie soundscapes and even shines on her own on the instrumental and synth driven tracks ‘The Hex’, and closer ‘The Altar’, and the fact she created these synthesizers and noise boxes herself is even more impressive. As for S. Peacock, he’s starting to demonstrate how he’s a masterclass guitarist, primarily because of his riffs and songwriting, and also due to how he plays black metal that’s perplexing and technical without a pick! But in all seriousness, what truly makes him outstanding is how he can deftly switch between primitive and stripped down riffs, to playing frenzied arpeggios and bending the strings and all that while playing as fast as A. plays drums. Moreover, that same level of technical mastery extends to how he plays such discordant and ominous black metal, while also roaring maniacally, and still throwing some Tom G. Warrior trademarked “UGHS”, to sell how this record is an out-of-time album, both vintage but with the developments of the more off-kilter side of modern black metal. The final element I wanted to highlight is the music as a whole, and how it comes together, particularly how the band refined their music for this record, in comparison to their debut, aside from the more present synths and better production, the music is built around the guitar, S. Peacock is , like I said, an excellent shredder, and this album definitely proves it, and having A. Spungin on drums really makes the music click, as having such violently eclectic guitar-centric black metal needs to have a drummer that matches that proficiency and the band succeeds.
My one and only critique here, (which the band also had in their debut) is that the music is very singular in tone, the band do a good job in keeping the music consistent and intense from beginning to end, but it’s such a specific mood, and in line with their debut that I kinda wanted more oddball detours, for example how the penultimate, and longest, and also the best track in the album, ‘Enter The Golden Sign’, has radical shifts in playing, starting with thrashy riffs, to wobbling and hypnotic riffs and licks, but as a whole, the feel is the same from beginning to end. That’s not to say it is bad, far from it, this record is excellent, but it does give me the impression that the band are almost there in terms of making a pure masterpiece, and on the bright side, they do come very, very close in this record.
All in all, Spirit Possession continue making a name for themselves and showing how black metal can be more than just riffs and darkness, and I truly believe that whatever they do next will be what truly and definitely establishes them as an emblematic band in USBM.
Best tracks: ‘Orthodox Weapons’. ‘Of The Sign…’, ‘Practitioners Of Power’, ‘Enter The Golden Sign’
Rating: 9 out of 10462