Reviewed by: Ari Roth
Celestite is a daring, rich, and supremely beautiful work. The latest album by the US black metal act has almost none of the sonic signifiers of its parent genre – no blast beat drums (or drums whatsoever), no vocals, and barely any guitars. Paradoxically, this results in their strongest record by a mile, a superficially drastic departure that allows the band to bore deep into the emotional center of their work. The focus here is on analogue synthesizers, sweeping, astral textures and tectonic melodies that recall classic ambient synth music blown up to impossible proportions. The result is certainly influenced by film scores and decades of underground electronic music, albeit always informed by the emotional intensity and looming grandeur of black metal. Still, it’s exciting to see a band emerging from such a conservative scene take such a radical risk, and to have it succeed so stunningly.
With its extended track lengths and lack of vocal presence, the album is best consumed as an overpowering whole, rather than in individual song chunks. Still, each track offers uniquely powerful moments, such as the symphonic synths and rumbling pulse of opener “Turning Ever Towards The Sun”, the metallurgic magma flow of “Initiation at Neudeg Alm”, the extended chords and relative calm of “Bridge of Leaves”, the glittering arpeggios of semi-title track “Celestite Mirror”, and the final, fading string textures of “Sleeping Golden Storm”.
When the guitars do emerge, they appear as thick, ominous clouds of textured bass frequencies, never virtuosic or technically flashy, simply another force in a sonic world seemingly free from human contact. Indeed, the band’s radical environmentalist background might have something to do with the sense that these pieces weren’t so much performed as captured as they erupted from the earth, glittering and whole. In an recent in-depth interview with FACT Magazine, band member Aaron Weaver described exactly this effect: “we wanted it to seem like we were peeking into a world that exists of its own accord, without the interference or input of human beings.” It’s trite to equivocate synthesizers with the “inhuman,” but here they are mobilized just as effectively to evoke the enormity of nature and the ever-expanding universe, a force far beyond human control or comprehension.