Review: BASTARD SAPLING — Instinct Is Forever
The trick to constructing an album that’s able to captivate a listener for the length of its duration doesn’t necessarily lie in filling it with the most inventive music ever written. I doubt if innovation would ever hurt the cause, but even it can wear out its welcome if it’s permitted to stagnate. What’s more important by far in maintaining the freshness of an album is a mastery of pacing.
The guys in Bastard Sapling know how to pace an album. In a genre where many bands are determined to place a song dominated by trem-picking/blasting directly subsequent to another song dominated by trem-picking/blasting, followed by 7 more songs dominated by trem-picking/blasting, these Wisconsinites opt for the high road of dynamic fluidity. Instinct Is Forever draws influence from varied sources, with few being as immediately discernible as the ever-referenced second wave of black metal. However, obviously not satisfied with playing inexhaustible variations of the same riff, Bastard Sapling approach the genre with a flair for flux; more suited to the dwindling attention span of the metal community.
Guitarists Drew Goldi and Steven Russell pull from a diverse arsenal of riffs and their ability to write in differing styles is quite admirable considering the fact that nothing ends up sounding out of place or clogging the pitchblack flow. While the first track demonstrates an aggressive yet straightforward give-and-take between blazing tremolos and a heavier trot, the following two, “Subterranean Rivers of Blood” and “The Opal Chamber,” are more reserved and indicative of their USBM comrades in Agalloch or Wolves in the Throne Room. This effectual variety exists both between the songs and within them. One particular transition in “The Opal Chamber” guides the listener, gently but abruptly, from a nearly 6-minute ethereal trance into a brief, much needed foot-tapper and then back again. It’s largely to the credit of Gregory Ernst and his intuition behind the kit that these switches are pulled off with such subtlety and effectiveness, and the album is rife with examples.
In addition to their knack for fluctuation, Bastard Sapling is more than capable of the successful expression and transmittal of their mood to the listener, which generally tends to shift between despondent, pissed off, and despondently pissed off. The end of “My Spine Will Be My Noose” will have you wailing “I hate my life/I hate my life/I hate my life/I fucking hate my life!” along with Mike Paparo and headbanging in acknowledgement of life’s ultimate shittiness.
“Elder’s” acoustic ambiance is a vital bridge between the first and second thirds of the album, and floats in stark contrast against “The Killer In Us All’s” seething black ‘n’ roll and “Splintering Ouroboros.”
The fellas in Bastard Sapling don’t musically reveal their identities as former and current members of Inter Arma until the 11-minute “Lantern at the End of Time,” and it’s the post rather than the sludge that comes through. The midsection’s slow-going brood (augmented by the vocal sorcery of Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell) wouldn’t sound out of place serving as an interlude on Sky Burial. Curiously (or maybe not curiously), Sky Burial and Instinct Is Forever end up sharing the same pitfall — a seriously arduous length. Even music as well-balanced as it is here has a hard time warranting a run time of an hour and five minutes, and that becomes clear when things really start to lag around the 50-minute mark. Luckily the final track, “Forbidden Sorrow,” finishes strong and gets bonus points for implementing the criminally underused dive bomb.
If it were a little shorter, I’d have a hard time flushing Instinct Is Forever at all, but those last 15 minutes really take their toll. The crux of it is this: Instinct Is Forever is an absolutely killer album until it finally collapses under its own weight and becomes a good album.