Article by Corey M. A more skeptical take appeared last December.
Visions of Exalted Lucifer comprises the type of surefooted, almost passive confidence that a band like Cirith Gorgor can be expected to gain with as much experience as they’ve had in black metal. Experience (not to be confused with longevity, as many bands have been around for a long time yet never learned from their mistakes or successes) alone has no intrinsic merit but does provide for musicians a way of mapping their excursions into the imagination, so as not to become lost or distracted by pointless tangents on their flights of fancy. Rarely does a band hone their skills through experience without losing that primal virility that drove them to reckless discovery. Usually, one strength overcomes the other as time wears on. Cirith Gorgor like most any black metal band active from the early ’90s into the mid-’00s, began producing clean, smooth, uninspired-and-uninspiring music that never ventures far from familiar topical territory.
Cirith Gorgor show no signs of exhaustion from their long service in the war against all that is modern and mundane, even though their current method of composition exhibits a firm grasp of a decidedly contemporary style of black metal instrumentation. Featuring intricate guitar melodies that weave about one another like caducean serpents, this constant use of counterpoint achieves a delicate balance between consonant resolution and dissonant suspension. This relentless feeling of teetering between sappy harmonic indulgence and chaotic keyless atonality without the music ever succumbing to one extreme shows the guitarists’ songwriting prowess. A band riding this knife edge of tension with efficient agility inspires a nervous awe.
Emphasizing Cirith Gorgor’s fearless wont to take black metal techniques to their logical extremes, some interesting “progressive” bits appear in the album. First, during the main riff in the second track, “Visions of Exalted Lucifer”, there is a somewhat hesitant stutter in the middle of the crucial chord change, shifting the beat count into 9s rather than 8s. In one of the verses that build up to a more unifying crescendo in “Rite of Purification – Vanished from this World”, this reoccurs; The guitar melody rises and falls in an arrogant refusal to be subjugated by the simple 3/4 time signature. While many might think that such technical meddling would negatively impact the direct delivery that makes black metal great, this opinion is understandably misguided thanks to the unprincipled pseudo-prog tendencies that modern metal acts are likely to shoehorn into their otherwise bland songs. For Visions of Exalted Lucifer, these odd phrases and atypical harmonic mutations are actually necessary to lead each song through its natural ebb and flow. They sure each riff’s opening, closing, and transitionary moments are satisfyingly wrapped up without exception. The drummer deserves credit for deftly assisting the chemical reaction-like relationship of guitar melodies, playing aggressive bursts only as needed at any given time, providing traction for the motivating riffs and assuring that a song never spins its wheels.
Listening to this album can be psychologically draining. Due to the constant whirling spiral of guitar harmonies, it is impossible to guess whether some riffs will resolve on a consonant closing chord or introduce more tension by shifting into a new key with its own harmonic space. Almost always, a lead melody is playing over the rhythm chords and spiking out toward strange and uncomfortable modulations. Whether the modulation occurs or is only hinted at is also difficult and sometimes impossible to anticipate. The modulations are not random, they are enigmatic. The stressful ambiguity of any proceeding direction can leave the listener with the vision of Dune‘s Paul Muad-Dib after ingesting a high dose of spice for the first time being assaulted by the infinity of possibilities as every potential future unfolds indistinctly at once. The listener will probably either be annoyed, rejecting the perceived unreasonableness, or submit and allow themselves to be dragged along for the wild ride, coming away with glimpses into the strange depths of alienated human minds. This is not an album for passive listening; it is appreciably polarizing and meticulously crafted.
Visions of Exalted Lucifer may be listened to on Hammerheart’s Bandcamp.