BASTARD SAPLING’s 2012 debut, Dragged from Our Restless Trance, was a huge hit with me. From the moment I first heard it, I knew that the Virginia quintet were one I needed to keep a close eye on. Fast-forward to 2014 and the release of Instinct is Forever (August 26 via Gilead Media/Forcefield Records). The sophomore effort sees the band adding new elements to their visceral black metal attack such as increased atmospheric moments and even slight hints of what I’d classify as progressive.
Instinct is Forever’s opening track, “My Spine Will Be My Noose,” begins with an atmospheric choir that gives way to an all-out blast of rage. As heard in their previous work, BASTARD SAPLING continues their cold and raw (yet discernible) guitar tones on this record. Mike Paparo’s vocals sound powerful and full of anger. This song is packed with energy and successfully sets the stage for the depth of songs to follow. “Subterranean Rivers of Blood” is next in line, featuring one of my favorite introduction riffs of the year. It’s fast yet intricate and melodic. Thankfully, it also gets used again later in the song. During the last minute and a half it becomes a bit more abstract with arpeggiated guitars and different rhythmic patterns; certainly a shining moment on the album. “The Opal Chamber” opens with low, gritty bass tones; something that black metal is typically not known for. However, on this LP, the bass can undoubtedly be heard and it enriches the songs. Another observation is that it seems to get more technical, deep, and somewhat progressive as you move down the track listing. “The Opal Chamber” has a sense of despair about it. The musical landscape it presents is darker than its predecessors, seeing many tempo changes and some phenomenal harmoniously dissonant guitar parts.
“Elder” is the shortest track on the album, clocking in at just over four minutes long, and is an ambient instrumental. It primarily features clean guitars with some haunting tones dispersed throughout. “The Killer in Us All” ushers in a rhythm reminiscent of a march. The song feels incredibly strong in a gloomy fashion. Its carnal and destructive lyrics are a great focus, especially in sections that share words with the title, to which Mike states “I will teach you that there is a killer in us all.” I don’t need to list the tons of current or past events to explain the validity of that statement. This is one of the most devastating numbers on Instinct is Forever. “Splintering Ouroboros” fades in with a slight hint of shoegaze before the black metal pummeling continues. Aside from a small interlude later on, it is unrelenting and one of the most aggressive songs on the album.
“Lantern at the End of Time” is my absolute favorite BASTARD SAPLING song to date. The opening riffs remind me of something that black metal legends, IMMORTAL, would write…BUT BETTER. Yes, I said that and I stand by it 100%. It is frostbitten and unapologetic, but soon unleashes clean, harmonized vocals! Just within the first minute, this track shatters any ideas of predictability about the record. The peaks and valleys it contains are incredible; ranging from all out thrashing, raging madness to clean toned guitars and singing. This track comes off as the most progressive on the album, in both content and arrangement. It is executed flawlessly and shows how the band is continually evolving while not ditching their roots. “Every Life Thrown to the Eclipse” includes unique guitar work in a heavier manner than the previous track. The guitar parts are heavy, yet somewhat airy and precise. The technical nature of them was the draw for me. “Forbidden Sorrow” closes the album with a somber feeling. While it still has its blasting moments, overall this is more mid-tempo than most of the tracks on the LP, serving as a dominant ending.
Instinct is Forever tremendously showcases territory that BASTARD SAPLING has been before and now perfected, as well as new ground not previously explored. I believe that this album will command even greater attention than their first one and is their strongest work to date. If you don’t know already, make note of who these guys are because they are a brilliant force in the underground that you’d be undeniably foolish to sleep on.
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM
WRITTEN BY ERIC THE BULL