Greetings, Loyal and Neglected Abyss Reader,
I've once again been inexplicably freed from the psuedo-journalist dungeon here at Metal Abyss HQ, ostensibly for the purpose of shining a light on a band whose young career we've been closely monitoring. Long-term Abyss readers will remember Poland's Mistral, the blackgaze duo who, roughly a year ago, dropped their first demos on YouTube. Though production was lacking in their initial offerings, the framework for engaging atmospheric, post-black metal was absolutely present. With two originals and a genuinely impressive cover of Alcest's Protection, few bands start as well as Mistral did. I said as much at the time, and was hopeful that the groundwork had been laid for a proper album.
Fast forward to October of this year and, as I'm sure you've by now guessed, the Editor has yet to bring me any pizza Combos. Shameful, really.
While that's 100% true, it's also true that Mistral have given us their first album. Somnifer, released via Bandcamp on October 31st, sees the duo of Jan (guitars, vocals, mixing) and Mikołaj (drums) building on the harsh/somber counterpoint dynamic found in their demos. Here is 52 minutes of post-black, atmospheric metal that is literally everything you'd expect from a post-black, atmospheric metal album. That is by no means a backhanded compliment. Mistral very wisely does not stray far from the formula for crafting a song that is equal parts heavy and melodic.
The album opens with 'Indigo,' which we heard in demo form earlier this year. Here the opening, bright guitar lead is joined by both detached and distant cleans and screams. The loud/soft dynamic that permeates Somnifer is firmly established here, with the opening lead fading to a subdued arpeggio over barely audible rain.
This leads into 'Wither' and the Alcest influences are strongly felt here. From the outset, Jan's lead guitar both drives and hints at where he's going to unleash his first truly remarkable moment on this album. The instrumental bridge finds Jan channeling his inner Neige with a morose, electrified lead that would not sound out of place on Les Voyages De L'ame. 'Heather' follows and a swirl of passive, introspective guitar tones and drums recorded three blocks away slowly dim to a few clear chimes, before exploding into driving, blackgaze goodness.
The real winner here for me is Homecoming. At a tick over 9 minutes long it's not even the longest track on Somnifer (that distinction falls to Bound at 9:42) but musically it absolutely runs the gamut of everything I love about this genre. Another subdued intro is followed by a simple, gristly and engaging three chord progression and, of course, Jan's blackened screams. The chords are revisited and reinterpreted throughout the track, one of my favorite ways for a songwriter to develop a musical narrative, especially on an expansive track. The melodic sensibilities of Agalloch are fused with the fuzzed-out longing of post-rock to create a track that belies its length- it's frankly over too soon.
So back to that backhanded compliment that wasn't one. What Mistral have done here is play by the rules. What I mean by that is that there are no unwelcome surprises. Mikołaj wisely does not substitute rubber chickens for bass pedals and Jan decided to forego the kazoo solo. These were good choices; just as trying to incorporate strings, horns or even a hurdy gurdy may have de-railed and overcomplicated an otherwise engaging album. Instead, Jan and Mikołaj opted for familiar sounds and tones that not only establish Mistral's sound, but have offered a profound mission statement for what this band will hopefully grow in to. If you're not already paying attention to Mistral, you ought to be. If Somnifer is a sign of things to come then this band will be commanding our attention in the future.