Much of black metal is a dreary, somber affair: dark, often self-destructive lyrical subjects and aggressive and often deliberately depressive music that doesn’t really leave much room for positivity; Not so with UK one-man black metal project Sorrow Plagues: like many recent atmospheric/post-black metal artists such as Deafheaven, Woods of Desolation, and others, Sorrow Plagues intends on challenging much of the genre’s long-held assumptions about what black metal can or should sound like.
The hazy, shoegazey atmosphere on this EP combined with the raw and noisy production style are a very evocative combination, and under other
circumstances might have sounded totally at home in a far less extreme genre of music. Yet these mask the true feelings this music seeks to channel. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to describe ‘An Eternity of Solitude’ as a positive album, yet the feelings it evokes are far from the often nihilistic, aggressive ones that black metal artists have traditionally sought to channel. It might be more accurate to say that An Eternity of Solitude channels feelings of hope, despair, and longing for something beyond reach. This is speculation of course, as the lyrics have not been published, but I am speaking to what the emotions this music draw out in me, and what I feel Sorrow Plagues is trying to communicate.
While some groups seek to see how deep into the pit of despair they can throw their listener, others revel in anger and aggression. There are many different approaches to black metal, none less valid than another. Sorrow Plagues seem to take a different angle, the sort of one bands like Woods of Desolation and An Autumn for Crippled Children take; that is, rather than seeing how negative and oppressive they can sound, they explore both ends of the emotional spectrum. By taking you through the more positive moments, the emotional lows when they tear it away from you are given far more meaning and power.
There’s a real feeling of hope and positivity in many moments throughout this EP, particularly in the astonishing opener ‘Corroding Soul’, yet these moments are always tinged and in some sense corrupted by an underlying sense of hopelessness; it’s a desperate, melancholic hope, a knowledge that something better is possible but a despair at it being beyond reach: knowing that it’s there, but never being able to grab hold of it. And just as soon as Sorrow Plagues shows you something positive to hold on to, it’s snatched away. And that is where the real tragic beauty in this EP lies: not in an attempt at unblemished beauty, nor in an attempt to see how extreme and negative one can sound; but in the Sisyphean quest for happiness yet never quite reaching it.
The third track ‘Failure’ opens with a very pretty piano passage before being upended with a wall of brutal noise: blast-beats, noisy guitars, and muffled screams forming a wall of feedback and shoegazey ecstasy. The following track, ‘The Depths of Emptiness’, offers a brief chance for respite, placing the piano at the forefront of the song, sitting comfortably above the wall of feedback, the screams indistinguishable from the tremolo-picked guitars, closing with a moving acoustic guitar passage.
Closing track ‘Acceptance’ represents the conceptual climax of this work, of what seems to be an emotional journey, taking its time with its pianos and synthesisers to hint at a kind of resolution to the emotional struggles expressed in the earlier songs. Pieces come together slowly, first introducing the guitars, then the drums, and finally the distant, noisy howls; yet while the noise increases, this song perhaps represents the moment when the sun finally breaks through the clouds and some real hope one can hold onto is found. The song and EP finally culminate in a truly beautiful passage, perhaps the sole passage not tinged by a melancholy or underlying sorrow: to me, it represents the acceptance of oneself and the possibilities of hope for the future that that brings.
One can feel the emotion in every layer of instrumentation on this EP. The clever and very tasteful use of the piano in addition to the traditional
instruments goes a long way to realising this vision of a kind of melancholic hope tinged with despair. The very raw, primitive black metal vocals are likewise executed with great tastefulness; the noisiness and graininess of them at times makes them sound like yet another of feedback in these songs, becoming another layer of instrumentation. You can feel the emotion with the crash of every cymbal, every collision of the snare and bass drums.
On the eponymous track ‘An Eternity of Solitude’ Sorrow Plagues takes an interesting risk by ditching vocals entirely and placing the shimmering guitars and mournful piano at the forefront; drawing on their post-rock influences, the song ebbs and flows, moving from lull to emotional crescendo with a real smoothness: from those beautiful, melancholic chords, like something off of a combination of Sunbather and Roads to Judah, and a truly wonderful guitar solo, to the moments that sound like something off of a Burzum or Endlichkeit record. Sorrow Plagues clearly poured everything they have into this
music. This is the sound of absolute musical catharsis, the purging oneself of all of one’s deepest emotions.