Hail Spirit Noir: ‘Fossil Gardens’ Review

When bands that aren’t the unfathomable Callous Daoboys say things like “This is our heaviest yet, we really matured our sound with this song, and we think this is gonna be a gamechanger for the genre” that spun tale is rarely reality. Yet here we hear Hail Spirit Noir fulfil exactly that, with their sixth album Fossil Gardens taking the stated approach to bring the extreme metal elements present in their discography to the forefront.

Fossil Gardens follows a five album run from the Greek psychedelia veterans, exploring unusual synth noises and vintage guitar tones with the addition of the occasional harsh vocal and blast beat, eventually dropping the harshes altogether and releasing a full-on synthwave record. After that unexpected detour, Hail Spirit Noir returns to black metal with a renewed vigour and a level of commitment to the kvlt not previously shown – your typical blast beats and tremolo riffing is to be found throughout, and the synth layering takes more of a backseat and atmospheric role than acting as a central driver to melody ala previous efforts.

Opener Starfront Promenade settles the listener initially with some smooth clean vocals and spacey synthesisers, gradually building in intensity until unleashing a flurry of intense drum patterns and layer upon layer of guitar and synthesiser. The cosmic cavalcade of sounds doesn’t end there – album highlights The Blue Dot and The Road to Awe take an approach to “black metal in space” that very few bands not named Mesarthim can pull off successfully.

The Road to Awe, by the way, does not take long to awe you despite its ten-minute length. Crooning clean vocals and abrasive harshes frequently give way to initially subtle lead guitar passages which further immerse the listener in a grandiose splendour – a feeling that Fossil Gardens resolves to evoke throughout. Its title track is another great example of this, closing the record with a firm commitment to the more extreme elements at play, before becoming something altogether different and ending with what feels like the impact of an asteroid, leaving nothing but unsettling synth sounds in its wake.

Vocally, the album shows a refinement in both the clean and harsh department. True of all Hail Spirit Noir albums that contain them, the harsh screams on display are admittedly a bit grating in terms of their style, and may throw off some listeners, but do get plenty of time to shine on this record. The clean vocals are few and far between this time around with the focus on intensity front and centre, but their appearances are well placed and come across more confidently than we’ve heard from the band previously.

The synthesisers sound absolutely massive in this production, which is peerless among black metal records. Every single layer, of which there are many, can be detected by the more active listener, a very pleasant experience with tracks like Curse You, Entropia giving plenty of room for every last instrumental part to breathe, particularly in its mellower sections.

There’s also essentially nothing to moan about – The Road to Awe has an excellent solo at its climax and I would have taken more of that sort of thing, I suppose. Nonetheless it’s a struggle to find a weak point in the album: Fossil Gardens is well produced – in space, everyone can hear you blast beat. It’s a well paced record too, a brisk 42 minutes of music flow without a hitch. Above all else – it’s well executed.

Hail Spirit Noir are a band that rarely evokes comparison, straying the confines of so many musical ideas, that it’s hard to “box” them into a particular vibe. I find myself believing firmly that this is among some of the best music the expansive, psychedelic side of black metal has to offer – and a substantial growth from the band’s previous records, which were already positively received. It’s an evolution that makes sense, but much like previous records, it’s fundamentally fun to listen to, and this humble writer strongly suggests you give it your ear.

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