Album Review: Spirit Possession - Of The Sign...
Reviewed by Sam Jones
Spirit Possession are only a recent force in black metal, yet since their 2019 inception I really haven’t paid them much attention. Formed out of Oregon, United States, the band really haven’t released too much material, their first Demo launched in 2020 and very soon after we got their first full length, self-titled work released following their signing to Profound Lore Records which, I recall, was absolutely hailed as a wondrous record. However, I never got round to it and so they went under my radar, but come 2023 the band announced they would releasing another album through Profound Lore Records titled Of The Sign…. I felt this was a perfect opportunity not only for something different but to see what Spirit Possession were all about, and whether they hype they’d garnered years ago could return a second time.
It’s interesting how Spirit Possession opt for a much thinner guitar tone and general production standard than other black metal acts may otherwise prefer. In a way, it’s as if Spirit Possession were a more rudimentary heavy metal band playing a traditional style that’s otherwise been gleamed over with a blackened aesthetic, yet we know, by listening, the band are clearly playing full-fledged black metal. It’s frankly a nice change of pace to listen to something that isn’t so totally encapsulating or dominating; the thinner tone allows for a more piercing and deadly form of riffs that forgoes that crushing atmosphere, choosing something much more visceral all the while appealing to everyday fans of metal who may not be completely won over by black metal. Spirit Possession certainly walk a very thin line, but their songwriting still evokes something primordial and otherworldly without the band bartering our senses at every waking moment.
It must be stated however, that this is a fast playing record. There are very few instances where the songwriting slows down or enables the audience to take a breath. There are times where the songwriting relaxes before throwing us back into the maelstrom, but “slow” is not something Spirit Possession are familiar with. The notion is shared by the vocal performance too; like the riffs and overall flow this record assumes, the vocals are absolutely rampant in their eloquent pronunciation. They’re as rapid fire as any burst of guitar work and blast beat can ever be, and their sharp timbre aids the band’s aesthetic all the more. Between the vocals and riffs, the record glistens with a razor blade sheen that cuts and slices through the various elements the album sports.
While the album on the whole isn’t a domineering force, it’s slicing, stabbing tone may become too great if allowed to run endlessly from start to finish; I believe that’s why the record is interspersed with the occasional instrumental, if only to break up the flow of songwriting the audience is subjected to. These instrumentals aren’t much, they do not have much instrumentation to boast of themselves, but they further the album’s aesthetic with these ambient keys and spectral atmosphere, hurtling from beyond alien vistas and hallowed planes. It’s nicely refreshing to enjoy a black metal record that appears more inclined towards a paranormal, otherworldly style than something wholly devoted against Christian ideology. This difference in style is felt through the instrumentals more so than the main tracks, but that doesn’t mean the tracks are lacking in any regard; the instrumentals simply showcase the band’s approach to black metal in more subtle and atmospheric regards.
If there is anything especially unique regarding Spirit Possession that helps them stand out against the myriad of new black metal acts, it’s that their songwriting, across the board from riffs to drumming to soloing to track structure, is borderline technical in nature. A streamlined, straightforward black metal assault this is not, and Spirit Possession hold every intention of demonstrating precisely that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening to the first or last track, by paying close attention you’ll realise how the band never sit still for one moment longer than a few seconds before their riffs may suddenly decide they don’t want to be their established form anymore, and choose to be something totally different than what you were introduced to beforehand. You can even hear their guitarist’s hands moving up and down his frets as the changes in riffs occur, and chords assume a nightmarish touch that showcase something darker and unknown, compared to what we may have been expecting. This is so far removed from your Emperor, Bathory, Darkthrone styles of black metal it frankly isn’t worth comparing them to Spirit Possession’s performance herein. This is a genuinely modern take on black metal that I would be ecstatic to hear continue, across the black metal board as it currently stands.
In conclusion, this is one dangerous black metal record. I say “dangerous” because Spirit Possession’s approach to songwriting is, as aforementioned, completely removed from traditional ideals of what constitutes towards quality black metal. I think some will deny it’s quality simply because of that notion alone, but I genuinely believe Spirit Possession are into something here, utilising an erratic style of songwriting that establishes them as something nigh on Technical Black Metal. Whatever the band may be labelled as, Of The Sign… is a roaring record that already stands amongst the year’s most visceral works and will likely be viewed as a backdrop against anything else upcoming throughout 2023. What’s perhaps all the more impressive is how the band manage to make their lengthy tracks, that still go full bore with this technical approach, just as approachable and engaging as their shortest pieces. These guys can certainly play but it’s never done for superficial purposes; everything that’s included has substance behind it and it’s to ensure audiences can become happily lost within Spirit Possession’s unfurling horror. A blackened work of insanity that’s bound to leave you transfixed and transmogrified, awaiting their next onslaught, or return again with a mark that is certainly Of The Sign…