It’s not often that one comes across some progressive black metal. While the progressive term often finds itself attached to genres like death metal, heavy metal, power metal etc, black metal is usually prefixed with terms like avant-garde and experimental. While one might argue that progressive black metal does exist in stuff like the later Emperor records, the early Ihsahn albums and the early albums of bands like Deathspell Omega, these albums are never credited as progressive black metal. It is understandable as progressive metal and black metal are polar opposites in terms of their themes and execution. While progressive metal relies on complex structuring and technical playing, black metal emphasises on nihilism which is reflected in the music and production aspects as well. Glasgow based Maelstrom attempt to combine these two on their latest full length ‘Sunlight’, leading to some interesting results
Maelstrom start things on a dark and heavy note with a thunderous opening riff and vicious snarls on the title track. The way the band brings clean vocals into the mix is almost seamless and along with it, comes the progressive flavour. The chord progressions and riffs are unorthodox for black metal and the subtle synth in the background adds a tone of grandiosity to the music. But when you step back and take a look at the tracks, the theme becomes quite unclear. Some tracks like ‘Liberate Me Ex Inferis’ show some solid song writing with great progressive tendencies that makes use of black metal tropes in a few sections. On the other hand, tracks like ‘Widow’ act as good symphonic black metal tracks.
The record wavers between these two polarizing sub genres and it struggles to find a proper foothold. Maelstrom are quite good at writing progressive music and they can dish out some mean blackened tunes as well. The way these two sides come together, is something that leaves a lot to be desired. Take the production on this record for example. It works perfectly fine for a progressive metal record, but is a bit too clean for the blackened parts.
Perhaps this contrast is why very few bands go down this road. Maelstrom have the chops to execute these two styles pretty well, individually. Now they must find a way to make it work together to form one unified tone and sound.