Unreqvited — Stars Wept To The Sea
Depressive black metal project Unreqvited burst onto the scene with an impressive debut album in Disquiet, which came out almost a year-and-a-half ago. Despite the project hailing from my home city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, it took a recommendation from fellow DSBM merchants Ghost Bath for me to take notice. Ultimately, Disquiet ended up becoming one of my favourite albums in the genre and I've been eagerly awaiting new material ever since. (A contribution to the Imperfect compilation was a nice hold-over, to be fair.)
Suffice it to say, the wait was well worth it, as Stars Wept To The Sea is everything a fan could have wanted in a sophomore album. All the elements that made Disquiet such an engaging, emotionally charged experience is present on the follow-up, and improved. Immediately, as "Sora" opens the album, the production value sounds much improved. Disquiet was anything but a low-fi affair, but it very much had the feeling of a highly polished "bedroom recording." Stars Wept To The Sea, regardless of where it was actually recorded, sounds more much more massive and sonically dense. The recording quality is razor sharp, and the mixing is perfect, managing to waylay the listener with a wall of sound when needed, but otherwise allowing all of the instrumentation plenty of room to be heard on each track.
Just like it's predecessor, Stars Wept To The Sea flows wonderfully from one track to the next; the individual songs are all distinct pieces of music, but they share similar tonality and compositional elements that they seemlessly fit together on the album. Disquiet was so good at this, it was difficult to tell exactly when each track ended and the next began, and Stars... is the same in this regard. The opening track takes a few minutes to establish a dark, sombre mood, opening with a vast, ominous-sounding choir before bringing the rest of the instrumentation — the guitars, bass, drums, piano, etc — in and stacking layers of sound. Before you know it, 7 minutes have passed and a wall of sound is delivering a crushingly heavy sense of catharsis.
That's really the story of all these songs, despite their lack of any discernible lyrics: slow builds, as the instrumentation paints emotionally affecting soundscapes with a perfect blend of atmospheric texturing and haunting melody. And then — at exactly the right moment, at precisely the right level of intensity — the guitars exorcise whatever dark feelings the material has stirred up, leaving the listener with a feeling of legitimate emotional release as it ends. There are some sparse vocals, limited to pained shrieks of agony, but mixed fairly low so even if that doesn't appeal they don't dominate any of the songs they appear on. As with everything else, the vocals are used exactly when they are needed, to add further weight to the songs, but otherwise the majority of the record is instrumental.
The easiest comparison one could draw is to Ghost Bath, and there is even a section of "Stardust" which features a riff almost exactly like the one in the aforementioned North Dakota band's own track "The Golden Number." I was a bit surprised to hear it, but it's a really, really good riff, and Unreqvited included it in a very distinct song that is far from a carbon-copy, so consider this an observation rather than a criticism. That one riff aside, the rest of Stars Wept To The Sea sounds fresh and wholly original, an 8-track offering that runs 52 minutes and feels exactly the right length — even with a the closing track running 13 minutes.
I still regard Disquiet as one of my favourite albums in the atmospheric / depressive black metal genre, but it's going to have some company in Stars Wept To The Sea. This new album highlights improvements across the board: better song writing, production and musicianship, while retaining the coherence and nuanced craft of the debut record. I could not be happier with this album, and it's already in contention for one my favourites of the year — I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Simply put, it's difficult to imagine a better sophomore album from a project than Stars Wept To The Sea. As impressive and enduring as the debut album was, this follow-up is exceptional — and a highlight of the genre. Fans of atmospheric / depressive black metal should absolutely give this album a listen, and anyone unsure where to dive into the genre can comfortably start here. Sometimes haunting, sometimes crushing, but always heavy; this album is a testament to the depth and breadth of metal, and potentially an Album Of The Year contender.
Release date: April 16th, 2018
Record label: Avant Garde Music
- White Lotus
Published: April 18th, 2018