Atmospheric black metal is a difficult thing to do right. You need the melodic elements to keep it interesting for the listeners but too many that it loses the power it gains from the raw sound that typifies the genre. One-man act ARX ATRATA achieves somewhere close to this for their latest release The Path Untravelled. Founded in 2010 by multi-instrumentalist Ben Sizer, they continue their streak of well received albums following 2013’s Oblivion and 2016’s Spiritus in Terra.
The album opens with the track MCMCXXVII (or 1997 to us mere mortals but that would be less thematically appropriate) is initially a quite mellow track that evokes memories of when I first heard GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR’s album F# A# Infinity. So much so that I’d recommend it to post rock fans and quietly hope for a collaboration at some point. It evolves into a sound that you would expect from the genre and eventually continues into the second track of the album.
To Be Reborn is a much more overtly black metal track before reverting back to the quieter theme set in the introduction. To the artists credit, this is something Sizer is really good at – the moments of quiet to accentuate and alleviate the more powerful moments. This is important. I’d quite happily sit down and listen to an album like MERZBOW’s Pulse Demon, which is just white noise being manipulated but I also fully accept that that wouldn’t be for everyone. However, if you add some variation into the record, it becomes a lot more accessible. Honestly, this takes it away slightly from the concept of ‘art for art’s sake’ and makes it something that a lot more people can enjoy just because it has those low and high moments.
Let’s discuss Elmet, my favourite track of the album which appeals to me in quite a big way. I think in part it’s because it feels like the most complete song. Not because the others are unfinished but because it feels like you could listen to it outside the context of the release. The intro and outro are shared with the tracks before and after but it flows just as well without those few extra seconds either side. It is like the perfect snapshot of the album. If I were to recommend the album to anyone with a limited amount of time, I’d say listen to this song and then buy the album.
Which leads me to discuss The Wraith, the harshest track on the album. It contains sheer rawness that is offset by a few seconds of gentle reverb laden strings to re-contextualise the pain in Sizer’s voice. It becomes apparent that this album isn’t something the artist is doing just for fun, or purely to ape their contemporaries in the scene. Instead they care about what they are doing, and you end up with an album like this. If you’ve ever heard, or even been aware of WINTERFYLLETH, AGALLOCH or even GRIS’ IL ÉTAIT UNE FORÊT… you need to listen to this album.
Words: Jacob McCrone
The Path Untravelled will be released 11th October 2019.