Ringarë — Under Pale Moon: A Review
Is it Throwback Thursday yet? Why do I ask? Because today we’re going back to a better time; perhaps the best of times: 199fucking6. (Or thereabouts.)***
Why was 1996 a better time? If I were to list the reasons, I would never run out of them, and you’d be reading forever. So I’ll list only the one.
1. SYMPHONIC BLACK FVCKING METAL.
That’s right, fuck-o. In 1996, black metal of the symphonic persuasion was not yet a joke. On the contrary, it was in vogue. Even Emperor was doing it — and Emperor is seriously righteously inarguably eternally tr00 black fvcking metal, okay? (Or at least they were back in ’96(66(<——-see what I did there?)).
What am I supposed to be writing about? Oh yeah, Ringarë. The band with that name that I don’t know quite how to pronounce is one of those old projects (2004) that, for unspecified reasons, never saw the light of day. If any sense is to be made of the promotional material, Ringarë contains former members of Chaos Moon. Is this bit of information relevant? I don’t know. Chaos Moon is relevant to Skáphe, and Skáphe rules, but Skáphe is not even remotely related to the traffic of old school symphonic black metal (OSSBM), so you decide, I guess.
Somewhere between the dark castles of Dimmu Borgir‘s Stormblåst, the mists of …and Oceans‘ Dynamic Gallery of Thoughts, and the ancient lore of Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk lies Ringarë’s debut record, Under Pale Moon. Did that sentence give you chills? No? What the fuck were you listening to in ’96 — Chumbawamba? Anyway, Under Pale Moon‘s inexplicable omission of definite or indefinite articles is balanced out by a very explicable and amazing atmosphere, which is created by the keyboards. In ’96, it was definitely possible for a band of this ilk to overdo it on the synths. Now, with nostalgia gnawing on our heels like the rabid hounds of nostalgia, not so much. Now we welcome the most liberal abuse of synths in our black metal because black metal has been too serious and too pure and too synthless for far too long.
In which case I can only hope that Under Pale Moon is a sign of a shifting tide, because I have been sitting around craving that good old ’96 synth atmosphere for the better part of the last year. It’s almost as if I put my desire for more flamboyant keys in black metal on a Vision Board and sent it out into the Universe, and the Universe granted my wish with Ringarë.
That’s not to say that Under Pale Moon quite lives up to the peaks of its forebears. No, but it is on the right track, which is not a bad track to be on for a debut. The production is thin and brittle, the mix just clear enough for each element to be discernible if you go looking for it. The synths are PERVASIVE and cold and mystical, evoking dreams of a moonlit bog where something very bad is about to happen. The drums — live and raw — harken back to a brand of versatile savagery that has been buried by over two decades of HOT PRODUCTION and SLAVERY TO THE BLASTBEAT. Namely, this guy favors artistry over pure aggression, and when the blastbeats do surface (from the bog) they do so out of narrative drive rather than some rote attempt to provide PROOF OF BLACKNESS. What else? Guitars: a hissing ambience. Vocals: standard unobtrusive tantrum. Keys, again: carrying the weight of each song and yet never attempting the virtuosity of, say, a Sverd (Arcturus) or a Mustis (mid-period Dimmu).
The triumph of Under Pale Moon — IF IT IS NOT ALREADY EXCEEDINGLY OBVIOUS — is that it picks up where some might say serious symphonic black metal left off, before Dimmu Borgir became a cash-grabbing cartoon of itself; before …and Oceans caught the techno bug; before Emperor started playing “sophisticated black metal” not “exclusively” but only “sometimes”. How much more of this stuff does the world truly need? I don’t know. It could be the case that there were untold and unsung thousands of bands peddling this wonderful buffoonery back around ’96, and I just never got into them because BANDCAMP DID NOT EXIST. It is certainly the case that symphonic black metal is no longer a sound that even minor metal labels are listening for, i.e., not one they are forcing upon any non-symphonic black metal acts they sign.
If there is anything modern about Under Pale Moon at all it must be the mossy fuzz that pervades all quadrants of the sonic sphere, most emphatic in the instrumental opener and the very very long outro to final track “Through Forest and Fog”, and reminiscent of Wolves in the Throne Room circa 2007. (So, I guess there’s nothing modern about it at all.) Through and through, Ringarë is a band of backward-gazing atavists, a breath of moldy air from the crypt in the face of all these hardcore bands with black metal vocals that are so popular with the kids these days.
FINAL JUDGMENT: The songs on Under Pale Moon are on the long side and fairly undistinguishable. Yet the ancient mood is so thick and absorbent that anyone looking for a fresh trip down an old hole will probably not mind. Suggested pairings: a smooth red blend, a misty dusk of spring, musky scented candles and The Earth Cave from Final Fantasy I.
Under Pale Moon will be released by Iron Bonehead Productions on March 8th, 2019.
***The “or thereabouts” will prove vital to not taking the claims of this author too literally.