Barbelith- Mirror Unveiled

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Monday, November 3, 2014

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but Baltimore has so many talented bands for listeners to choose from. No matter what genre you’re interested in, there’s usually some local act performing at a very high level. This has been especially true when it comes to metal, and one of the latest to release material is Barbelith. If you’re from the Baltimore area you may have seen this name around or caught them live, as the black metal group has released an EP and 7” over the past couple years. Mirror Unveiled is their full length debut, and contains four tracks of sprawling atmospheric black metal that blurs the lines between the traditional sounds the genre is known for and post/psychedelic rock. It’s one of those records that makes an immediate impression, and it is capable of standing out in what has become a fairly crowded space.

Whenever you see an album get tagged as progressive or atmospheric black metal, it’s typical to expect that the band might start things off with a softer or slow intro before building into a wave of chilling intensity. Barbelith heads in the completely opposite direction, beginning opener “Beyond the Envelope of Sleep” with what sounds like a psychedelic freak-out. The drums and guitars go absolutely wild, and it instantly grabs your attention before some of the familiar harshness of black metal kicks in. Mirror Unveiled is anchored around its second and third songs, with the first and last tracks providing shorter bursts that showcase the most traditional black metal elements. During the lengthier moments the instrumentalists make it clear that they’re not just going for your standard Wolves in the Throne Room style material with sprawled out blasting and a consistently chilling atmosphere. Instead, they intersperse these sections with mellower build-ups that remind me more of post rock and progressive/psych rock at times. They’re very introspective in nature and weave layers of melody around your eardrums before ramping back up to that familiar cold blast, and it’s truly enticing. The one issue I did have with this release was that the drums were mixed just a little too high up for my tastes, as the snare drum is often the most prominent element of the sound and I felt as though it overpowered the other instruments at times. Considering the strength of the guitar leads and the twists and turns they are able to provide I would’ve preferred they had been given just a bit more of the spotlight, but it’s certainly not anything that would be a deal breaker.

The instrumentals may head into mellower, introspective territory on a regular basis, but the vocals keep things on the rougher side. For the majority of Mirror Unveiled this comes through as a harsher scream that has a bit of a washed out sound to it, as if it’s floating in and out of the layers of sound. It’s a familiar style for this genre, but the performance has that perfect amount of intensity that adds significantly to the energy level and anyone with a taste for this type of black metal is likely to be drawn in by it. There are a few moments on both “Astral Plane” and “Black Hole of Fractured Reflections” where the screaming is really taken to the next level though, as the pitch becomes even more extreme and anguished, and these sections showcase that Barbelith can be just as raw and in your face as anyone else.

Despite my slight nitpick with the drums being just a bit too loud, this is still an impressive full length from another talented Baltimore act. Barbelith pulls from some familiar influences but rather than simply producing another Cascadian black metal album or blackgaze effort, the incorporation of some post rock and psychedelic leanings helps create a distinguishable sound. There remains further room for expansion, as the experimentation of the thirteen/fourteen minute numbers suggests that the band could create even lengthier soundscapes further down the road, but what they’ve already achieved will keep listeners coming back. Mirror Unveiled is capable of sending shivers down your spine one moment and putting you into a calm state of reflection the next, and that’s what makes Barbelith feel genuinely different from so many of the other black metal groups of this type.

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