Bastard Sapling- Instinct Is Forever

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Richmond metal/punk scene has produced some incredible bands over the years, and acts like Inter Arma, Windhand, and Occultist have brought the city’s musical scene into the spotlight in recent years. What’s particularly interesting is that I’ve noticed a trend among some of these bands to establish a strong base on their debut album before putting out a sophomore effort that expands their sound considerably and heads in unexpected directions. Inter Arma and Windhand did this last year within the realms of sludge and doom, and now it is Bastard Sapling’s turn to take the black metal from their previous efforts and twist it into something different with their full length Instinct Is Forever. This feels appropriate, as not only are three of the band’s members part of Inter Arma but Windhand’s singer Dorthia Cottrell also makes a guest appearance on one of the later tracks. It’s a sign that this is another Richmond artist taking a significant stride forward and finding their own sound, and while it’s still fairly early in the year this could definitely be a 2014 highlight by the time December rolls around.

If you’ve listened to 2012’s Dragged from Our Restless Trance, there are still plenty of familiar elements at play here. Bastard Sapling started off as a band that took elements from Scandinavian black metal and merged it with sprawling riffs that were reminiscent of acts like Wolves in the Throne Room. There are still similar ideas at the core of what the instrumentalists are doing, but everything has been expanded in scope and there’s more variation to the attack. Rather than simply going for fast paced, droning riffs that expand in volume until they reach a climax, Bastard Sapling pulls in additional stylistic influences and lets their material twist and turn in an unpredictable fashion. It’s not too different from what Inter Arma did with Sky Burial, only with the abrasive edge of black metal serving as the primary element. What I like the most about Instinct Is Forever is how it’s able to offer peaceful and terrifying moments, often within the confines of the same song. One moment might start off with the familiar Scandinavian black metal assault before shifting over to atmospheric melodies that have a calming feeling as they swirl around your eardrums. Bastard Sapling also incorporates some slight hints of thrash, punk, and even a little ambient at key moments to grab your attention and keep you fully tuned in. It’s a lengthy effort, coming in at about an hour, but even after listening to this one all the way through for almost a day and a half straight my attention hasn’t waned and I haven’t been tempted to skip any track in favor of others.

Vocalist Mike Paparo employs a very similar scream/growl to that of his work in Inter Arma, so it should feel familiar to anyone who has spent time listening to any of that group’s material. Paparo’s sheer level of energy worked well in that band and it fits Bastard Sapling’s style perfectly as well. The major difference here is that the performance tends to stick towards the higher range and only dips into the lower pitches during key moments, which works well with the black metal elements. There’s a decent amount of separation between the vocals and instrumentals, allowing them to take the spotlight on a regular basis, but sometimes they fall back into the mix and act as just another element that builds up the atmosphere. As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Dorthia Cottrell from Windhand makes a guest appearance on the track “Lantern At The End Of Time” and brings her ethereal singing style to Bastard Sapling’s harsher arrangements. It’s one of the highlights of the album, as her vocals give way to Paparo’s screams and this results in a dynamic and breathtaking performance.

Bastard Sapling had some good ideas previously, but there were a few too many moments that reminded me of other bands and didn’t leave a truly lasting impression. This time around they have been able to take those elements and expand them outward to their next logical point, which has created dynamic arrangements that are able to provide both tension and serenity without abandoning the harsher black metal aesthetic. It’s clear that the members of this group have ambition and were able to branch out stylistically without spreading themselves too thin, as each of the songs is capable of enticing the listener in with that familiar abrasiveness but will keep them coming back with its unpredictable twists and turns.

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