For all the protests from fans claiming otherwise, black metal is a genre that creates and follows fashions just as any other. Consider the way that the very concept of “trve” has largely come to refer to a certain aesthetic approach to music, with its associated looks (corpse paint; monochrome album covers; hands raised in claws to the sky) rather than an actual sound. Look at the way that albums like De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, Transylvanian Hunger, and even Sunbather spawned legions of imitators – whatever we may think of the bands or albums in question, there’s no denying that they came to represent important points in black metal trends. Do you really think we’d have had so many “orthodox” black metal records being released ten years ago if Watain hadn’t got so much press coverage?
Which brings us to Lamp of Murmuur and raw black metal. Of all black metal’s subgenres, raw black metal1 can cling to style over substance more than most, taking records like Darkthrone’s Transylvanian Hunger, Emperor’s Wrath of the Tyrant, or the output of Les Legions Noire as some kind of (un)holy gospel. They might up the punk influence from time to time, but rarely is anything too exciting or new done with the genre. That’s not a knock on the style – it can be exciting to hear a genre piece done well, focusing purely on song-craft and strong riffs without trying to challenge genre boundaries. But it does mean that the subgenre can be consigned to the deepest depths of the underground, with few acts or releases feeling noteworthy since those early records helped define the style.
Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism could be the album to change all that.
Since emerging in 2019 with a trio of obscure, hard-to-hear demos, Lamp of Murmuur’s profile has steadily grown, with each release generating more excitement (even allowing for the dungeon synth release that it seems almost all solo black metal acts will dabble with at some point). As such, Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism arrives with huge expectations, even for someone such as myself who was initially sceptical about all the hype around Lamp of Murmuur. Sure, those demos and EPs were good, but the underground can be just as guilty as the mainstream – if not more so – of building up bands to absurd levels when the music doesn’t justify it.
As it turns out, Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism justifies every bit of hype and then some.
On the surface, the album is easy enough to describe. Raw black metal with a heavy emphasis on melodic leads and catchy riffs, delivered with blistering conviction, with the odd dash of keyboards to add atmosphere – it’s basically a perfect album to sum up the growing vampiric black metal sub-genre. Think of the first two Emperor releases combined with the riff-heavy focus of Finnish black metal and you’re in the right sort of area. Simple enough, right? But what that elevator-pitch of a description absolutely fails to convey is just how good those riffs and leads are, or how passionate the delivery of these songs is. Black metal musicians often refer to performances as “rituals”, yet rarely do they ever come close to touching the sheer intensity and spiritual force that Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism does. This is black metal as an exorcism.
Nor does it do justice to how detailed these songs are. Each of the five “proper” tracks here (the album also contains two short dungeon synth tracks, which see out the two sides of the album) are laced through with melodies and riffs, many of which are slightly buried in the mix beneath the cavernous vocals and gigantic riffs; this is an album that rewards repeat listens and attention. The drumming too is inspired, littered with small details and fills that contribute so much to the texture and personality of the music, that clearly demonstrate just how much thought and attention has gone into crafting Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism. It even manages that most rare of things for raw black metal in possessing actual contrast and musical topology, as demonstrated early on by the middle section of opener ‘Of Internal Passion and Aberrations’, where atmospheric synths combine with relatively restrained riffs to provide a sense of variety and flow against the fury that defines the rest of the track. Even as the opening moments of ‘Bathing in Cascades of Caustic Hypnotism’ rage against all around them, there’s still space for some subtle, deft bass melodies; and the re-recorded version of ‘The Scent of Torture, Conquering All’ (originally from the Chasing the Path of the Hidden Master demo) is a demonstration of all that is good about raw black metal, vampiric or otherwise.
Yet it feels slightly ridiculous to try to pick out highlights when the album is so filled with them. Each song is invigorating and exciting, and for all that they can feel like a rush of blood and adrenaline, the sense that they have been crafted by an absolute master is never far away. And within the context of the thoughts that open this piece, it is also interesting to note what Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism doesn’t contain. There is no sign here that it has been influenced by any of the musical trends in black metal within the past ten or fifteen years. There is no hint of atonality, or the atmospheres of orthodox black metal; none of the meandering wistfulness of so much atmospheric black metal; and absolutely no trace of blackgaze. Within the context of raw black metal, it stays away from the punk-infused side of the genre that had been popular in recent years, when assorted movements in the north of England and parts of America threatened to rise out of their local scenes and into wider recognition. Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism is arguably the first defining text of vampiric black metal.
Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism is, in so many ways, black metal in its most pure form, rooted in the style’s history and origins whilst also feeling like its future. Don’t misunderstand, though. Even in that context, there is room for invention and personality, most notably in the way that the bass is used – just check out the throbbing, almost post-punk basslines of the title track, or the Dead can Dance cover that closes the digital version, demonstrating that Lamp of Murmuur has a deep love and respect for black metal, and an awareness of how influences from outside the genre can be used. Even as it lays out a template for vampiric black metal, it is already looking beyond its boundaries.
Despite being roughly 1,000 words into this piece, I still don’t feel I’ve come close to capturing all that makes Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism such an exciting, inspiring record. It genuinely feels like a landmark album not just in the raw black metal subgenre, but in black metal as a whole – it would be little surprise if this album came to be talked of in similar ways to how records such as In the Nightside Eclipse or Battles in the North or Dead as Dreams are. Along with the absolute madness of Old Nick, Lamp of Murmuur feels destined to spawn a wave of imitators, to drag different strands of raw black metal out from the underground and for it to become the next “big thing” within black metal (and it’s worth noting at this point that Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism is perhaps as clean and polished a raw black metal album can be without becoming something else entirely). That the initial vinyl press at Death Kvlt sold out in less than one minute feels like further evidence of that. As someone who has been listening to and following black metal for most of my life, I can’t remember the last time a new album had me so excited as this does. Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism isn’t just the best album of the year; it’s probably the best black metal album to be released in the past twenty years.
1: I consider the raw DSBM of bands like Xasthur to be separate from the raw black metal discussed here in terms of subgenre, given that it often emphasises pure atmosphere over distinct riffs, and aims for a very different emotional mood to the violence and fury of raw black metal.
Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism is out now and can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain