Falls of Rauros have returned from the wilderness with their fourth full-length album, Vigilance Perennial. From start to finish, they display the confidence of a band with the experience and production resources to keep doing what they do best: create emotionally charged, highly accessible black metal while wearing powerful influences from folk and prog rock on the sleeves of their grass-stained cloaks.
With Agalloch out of action and Wolves in the Throne Room’s last metal album over five years in the past, there’s certainly room atop the tree-covered mountain of nature-centric, post-rock infused black metal (although the like-minded Panopticon unquestionably holds a mighty claim to that territory). Falls of Rauros may come from the wrong Portland – Maine instead of Oregon – but that has certainly never blunted their engagingly melodic and riff-centric take on the sound usually associated with Cascadia. Judging from their publicity materials, the band does not seem entirely comfortable with claiming the black metal tag at this point, and that makes sense given how they’ve constantly mixed that style with mellower influences throughout their discography.
On their latest record, Falls of Rauros continue to embrace the improved production values that emerged on Believe in No Coming Shore while placing even greater emphasis on harmony. The album’s defining characteristic lies in the mesmerizing interplay between guitar, bass, drums, understated keys, and the consistently coarse, anguished howls. All the elements are nicely balanced and clear on the recording, allowing listeners to appreciate fully the expressive array of tones.
Par for the course with this band, opener “White Granite” kicks things off on a relatively quiet note, a bluesy melody gradually gaining heavy accents from the rhythm section before the distortion kicks in for a section of full-fledged doom with the customary black metal vocals. By the third minute, we have the first signs of blackness in the riffage, albeit overlaid by the kind of rocking lead guitar you’d never hear on a truer band’s album. Things get properly heavy about halfway through the seventh minute, but even then the track remains exceptionally warm in terms of both composition and recording – a statement that this band will continue flying in the face of the hoary conventions of coldness and alienation many still consider essential to black metal as a genre.
That said, second track, “Labyrinth Unfolding Echoes” is more of an unabashed atmospheric black metal piece in the aforementioned Cascadian tradition. Plenty of double bass and tremolo picking show up to reassure the purists Falls of Rauros have not departed from their roots. The intense riffage eventually recedes for a moment, the bass and drums taking the spotlight for an interlude before the guitar returns for a soulful solo leading into a vicious, yet mournful, conclusion.
Next comes the two-minute instrumental break of “Warm Quiet Centuries of Rains,” which is as slight and soothing as you might imagine from the title. At just over two minutes, it’s the only track to clock in under nine. That’s just long enough for listeners to pop a fresh bottle of their favorite microbrew before “Arrow & Kiln” hits hard with a battery of blast beats. The riffs alternate between blackened aggression and folky hooks, and there’s even room for a full-on prog-folk jam toward the track’s midpoint. The rhythm section maintains a propulsive undercurrent as the clean guitar chords develop into another killer lead. Drums and bass again get some room to breathe, each taking over momentarily during a transitional section before guitar and vocals come roaring back once more. In these moments, the band fully reveals the power of its dynamic arrangements, working in tandem with the cleanness and clarity of the production.
Closer “Impermanence Streakt Through Marble” introduces a clean guitar melody backed by the drums and bass, retaining the minor chords as they are joined by a distorted black metal riff and blasting. The juxtaposition nicely sums up the band’s approach, resolving into a section of driving, yet atmospheric black metal until the proceedings are broken up by another tastefully prog-flavored guitar solo. The vocals reach their greatest urgency as the record wraps up with a compelling combination of tunefulness, dexterous picking, and pounding rhythms.
At this point, we’ve all heard countless bands joining elements of folk, post-rock, and prog with various forms of metal. If that sort of melange has never moved you, this album probably won’t be the one to change your mind. However, there are two aspects to set Falls of Rauros apart from many of their peers. One is a strong appreciation for the pleasures of a mid-tempo groove drawn from doom metal. The other is a studied understanding of how dynamic songwriting and production make either a haunting harmony or a brutal assault hit the listener with far greater force.
The band has refined its approach with each album but never changed direction. The time may be right for that consistency to achieve greater recognition, with Vigilance Perennial serving as a gateway for a wider audience of serious metal aficionados and more casual appreciators of black metal’s friendlier side alike.