Review – Wildernessking: Mystical Future

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  • Bio: "Four friends from the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa making music together."
    - Bandcamp
  • Label: Sick Man Getting Sick Records / Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions (CD)
  • Release Date: January 29th, 2016 / February 26th, 2016
  • Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Wildernessking was forged in 2011, though South African black metal afficionados may be aware of their time as Heathens between 2010 to that very year. During that time, the band released two EPs and a single before making that monicker change. Since then, the atmospheric act from Cape Town has remained the same four-piece, and with the same musical objective as laid out in their 2012 debut album The Writing of Gods in the Sand. In the time that followed their wildly praised debut outing, they issued a few more EPs, as well as two split efforts before finally returning to the studio to unleash their follow-up album Mystical Future as a limited edition vinyl through Sick Man Getting Sick Records, and digitally through their own Bandcamp account. Of course all prior to signing with Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions, who have just made it available once more in compact disc form. But is this recent outing as good as fans expect it to be, let alone even comparable to their first time?

For the most part, when compared to The Writing of Gods in the Sand, Mystical Future introduces a much more vibrant and modern sounding audio quality to it that really helps it stand out until things begin to noticeably spiral downward. This, however, is something we’ll get to in a bit, as what greets the listener are sharpened riffs that sound fantastic through and through, creating a haze-filled terrain that blurs the lines between frostbitten and heatwave, backed by a solid bass presence and slightly echoed drum kit that comes through just enough to not overtake the various grooves or emotions the music is creating. And then there’s the vocals that assert themselves with enough clarity to often be understood without the need of a lyric sheet, but know when to take a step back and act more like a voice lost in the wind for added bite during the more enthusiastic performances like “I Will Go to Your Tomb”.

While “I Will Go to Your Tomb” sticks to the modern day of heated intensity, there’s no denying the subtle Mayhem aggression that can be found when not channeling more of a dream-like state in the hooks during the slower passages that tickle the thought of shoegaze incorporation without completely crossing over into that world. Sadly, where this track succeeds in making the many bouts of variety work together into one just over six minute cut you could lose yourself in quite easily, “To Transcend” offers a tamer look at the band, harking to lighter atmospheric material like SunnO))) or Celestite by Wolves in the Throne Room. While not a bad performance overall, it offers little to intrigue the listener beyond additional distant gritty vocals, not to mention abruptly kills the flow Mystical Future had built up to that point. Truthfully, had this been the conclusion as opposed to intermission, perhaps it would have faired a bit better. It’s just hard to accept this as being in the same continuity as the aforementioned ruthlessness and the surprisingly more Vintersorg tinged progressive nature behind the first chapter that is “White Horses”, a song that excells at using the over nine minute length to weave a truly depressing piece of emotional charged black metal.

Wildernessking

And, well, that’s where the flaws really start to show. According to the liner notes, Mystical Future was composed between January 2012 and September 2013 and, really, you can kind of tell that it was done over a lengthy period of time. While the five songs that compose this release still fit the band’s aesthetic, it’s hard to really sit back and accept the fact that these tracks really fit together on the same album. It also doesn’t help that this was recorded “intermittently” between June and December of 2014. Compare the emotionally charged starting track “White Horses” or even the aggressive “I Will Go to Your Tomb” to “With Arms Like Wands” and you can easily pick up on distinct differences across the board. The most obvious is that the latter just doesn’t feel as passionate, or even as well fleshed out as the first two. It sounds a little more analog to become something one could sum up as just another raw sounding black metal release. There’s no real spark to be found from “To Transcend” to the first half of the doomier “If You Leave”, and it’s a downright shame given the flawless and enthusiastic start which immediately spoils the listener with no warning of degredation in quality ahead.

Mystical Future is one of those albums that gets you excited right away by offering grand atmospheres and emotionally driven material early on, only to drop the ball the deeper down the rabbit hole you travel. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad album by far, but rather doesn’t have the ability to maintain the impact it made as a first impression. This stems a lot from the aforementioned gaps in writing and recording, which is surprising given that this practice isn’t exactly a rare thing in the metal world today. Thankfully there’s enough redeeming material on this album that not only makes Mystical Future worth revisiting, but also reminds fans why The Writing of Gods in the Sand was such a success. So, if you enjoyed their debut, chances are you’ll find plenty to justify picking up their follow-up effort, though won’t feel as complete by the time you finish your first run through.

Wildernessking
Physical review copy of this release provided by Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions.