Victory Over the Sun — A Tessitura of Transfiguration
Weird. Lovely. Occasionally violent.
“Weird” never has been and doubtless never will be a white-hot selling point for metal. That said, metal can be insanely boring, and it is often the weird ones who force the genre to evolve into something interesting again or, failing that, simply remind us that metal is indeed the product of evolution. Victory Over the Sun is of this ilk. It is a genre-blind project that takes black metal as its primary colors and then swiftly mixes in so many unorthodox shades that the final picture, at least from a distance, looks much more gray. (Gray metal is not a nanogenre tag that has ever taken off despite writers of yore applying it to Agalloch and the like, but it is pretty apt in this case.)
So yes, let us begin with the weird. At first blush, Victory Over the Sun’s debut, A Tessitura of Transfiguration, is a bit of a mess. This is par for the course; no cause for dismay or alarm. The record takes a while to sort out, and rewards repeated listens. Depending on your point of reference, the journey may call to mind such nonconformists of old as Fleurety, Ved Buens Ende or even maudlin of the Well. That’s not to say that Tessitura is quite as confrontational as any of those; it’s just that VOtS clearly has no interest in doing anything correctly.
Take the opening song, “The Objectless World”, which begins with a short burst of dissonant aggression played in 11/8 only to drop into a melodic and mesmeric lull for the next four-and-a-half minutes, replete with clean guitar arpeggios, bass clarinet, tuneless yet enchanting vocals, and whispers (more on which later, probably). The lull eventually collapses under a hefty, distorted doom riff and some classy harsh caterwauling. The call-and-answer between dreaminess and desperation plays on until the eleven-minute mark (or thereabouts), at which point we are brutally ejected into another sonic palette: “Half-silvered Mirror”, a more tense and eerie world of mid-paced grayness, sluggish blast beats and suddenly audible bass. To follow, we’re treated to a noise-rock aneurysm, some depressive-style lugubrium minus the hateful haze, and a guitar solo that sounds like a hungry chicken pecking at the strings.
The loveliness of A Tessitura of Transfiguration comes home to roost (to continue with the fowl imagery) on final track “Casting a Bell”—my favorite by a decent stretch. Here, what I’m calling the primary melodic motif is first carried by clean guitar, then violins, and it evokes a pitch-perfect mood that I cannot describe: like a phantom scent that pierces you with nostalgia for some idyllic childhood moment long-since buried by decades of mediocrity and self-negation. The colors evoked by this melody—as by the secondary melodic motif, also introduced by clean guitar—are childlike, or adolescent-like: sweet and yet not quite happy; calm yet portending discontent. Later, the primary melodic motif is taken up by a grating tremolo riff, set against unhinged howls and other blackish metal trappings. It all wraps up in a blunt, thudding freakout that brings to mind the way mid-period Isis might have ended an album. That is a good thing. (Also a good thing, in no way related to Isis: the furtive little squeaking noises that appear randomly in the first minute of the song, as if someone were trying to play the recorder for the first time).
Potential for future greatness abounds on Tessitura, especially in the way each song and each separate movement therein flows into the next. Victory Over the Sun has an eye for the Big Picture. All that’s lacking here is a bit more concision in song-length (affairs do tend to drag, it must be said) and a production that befits the orchestral ambition. These four songs clearly want to soar beyond the meager dynamic range they’ve been afforded but instead they are confined by a thin and shallow mix borrowed from the rickety aesthetics of the Spanish or Portuguese black metal underground. The instruments are all clear and well-separated; the quiet parts sound sublime; and yet the loud parts never quite pop.
What more can we expect from an independent production? Not much more, so this last quibble is a minor one. (Another gripe: I could do without so much whispering; never appreciated it in Agalloch or Dornenreich and don’t appreciate it here.) That aside, Victory Over the Sun has bucked the trend of January being nothing but a dump for garbage nobody bothered to release between the previous February and December. I’m looking forward to the band’s next move.
Below you’ll see a pictogram signaling the rating of Three Solid Flaming Toilets ov Hell
A Tessitura of Transfiguration was released independently on January 3rd, 2020.