German progressives, The Spirit, started as a quartet in 2017, slimmed down to a trio in 2019, and are now a duo after the departure of their bassist. Many bands would call it quits or take an extended hiatus, but not these cerebral Germans. The Spirit’s unique take on progressive black metal won considerable acclaim for their 2020 LP, Cosmic Terror, and they retool their approach for album number three with another exhibition of sophisticated extreme music. Of Clarity and Galactic Structures is a dark undertaking that explores the sharp dynamics of thrash and the chaos of dissonant black metal as if the two can reveal the mystery of the eternal void.
The Spirit make it clear that audience expectations are low down on the list of priorities on this record. This explains why the opening title-track starts like a catapult launching a jet from an aircraft carrier and then extends for three minutes after the last chorus. You’ll have no trouble reacting to the black metal catharsis or tightening your neck muscles to the alternating blast beats and double-kick patterns. Nothing here is overproduced or sanitised by digital wizardry. “I soar above the cosmic web/ Witness the expanse of the void/ The awareness, I am nothing,” implores Matthias Trautes, in one of many meditations on the paradoxical liberation of death. You’d think abstract lyrics like these would suffocate underneath a black canvass of crushing noise, but The Spirit unearth soaring melodies among the violent tremolo riffs and discordant shapes. Listen to the bedazzlement of harmonising guitars near the end and see if you can remain unmoved.
Of Clarity and Galactic Structures requires an unusual dedication of effort and concentration if you’re listening to it in a moment of idle leisure. Read through the lyrics to ‘The Climax of Dejection’, and you’ll soon realise that this LP deserves your intellectual energy. Your ears will prick up to the sounds of chugging thrash metal rhythms and lucid footwork on the double-bass pedal from drummer, Manuel Steitz, but your brain will gravitate towards the dark stanzas. “Miserable but confident towards the iron structure/ The belt tight around my neck, one last breath/ I lean forward and enter the eternal void.” The obtuse guitar chords speak the same language as the lyrical sentiments.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of this record is the band’s willingness to explore a progressive death metal soundscape similar to Death’s last two albums before Chuck Schuldiner’s passing in 2001. Matthias Trautes explores the harmonic minor scales and opens up the hostility of the music far beyond the mundane concerns of the here and now on ‘Repression’, while ‘Celestial Fire’ recalls the imaginative black metal of Manuel Steitz’ ex-employers in Agathodaimon but with Opeth textures. The music has a live quality to it, but the guitar tone is dry and denuded of the treble settings that would give it more crunch if they adjusted their amps. This creates an impenetrable post-metal feel to the technical thrash and progressive elements and prevents you from embracing the air guitar. But maybe that’s the point. “Metaphysical voices challenge what I have become/ I surrender myself to the flawless solitude,” roars Trautes, in another homage to the totality of life beyond the human sphere.
The Spirit are difficult to categorise and even harder to understand, yet their imaginative musicianship reaches a climax on the closing instrumental, ‘Laniakea’. Technical guitar scales give way to a floating synth loop that holds the composition together like a distant star guiding the way to the edge of the earth. It’s not obvious on first listen that this record is a stellar piece of prog metal, yet the last song confirms it. Of Clarity and Galactic Structures is a puzzle that brings great rewards to those with patience.
Release Date: 29/04/2022
Record Label: AOP Records
Standout tracks: The Climax of Dejection, Repression, Laniakea
Suggested Further Listening: Terzij De Horde – In One of These, I Am Your Enemy (2022), Death – The Sound of Perseverance (1998), Ancient Thrones – The Veil (2020)