After hearing Hail Spirit Noir’s debut album Pneuma for the first time, my shorthand description to anyone who would listen was “early Electric Light Orchestra meets latter-day Enslaved, with guest vocals from System of a Down’s Serj Tankian.” And after multiple listens, that description still holds up.
Make no mistakes, this is excessive. This thing takes more detours than a tourist trying to avoid Atlanta’s freeways during rush hour. “Mountain of Horror” features jazzy bass interludes that resemble Chris Squire having a nervous breakdown during Yes’ Close to the Edge heyday, “Let Your Devil Come Inside” sounds like a black metal Deep Purple with ELO’s string section and a wandering xylophonist popping into the studio, “Against the Curse, We Dream” features sections that sound like Darkthrone covering the Ventures, “When All is Black” starts off sounding like a forgotten Zombies backing track…and yet none of these tracks is content to just rest on those elements. They shift into pounding mid-tempo black metal, lyrical mellotron lines, four-on-the-floor rock riffage and weeping guitar leads with no notice given and no quarter asked.
It’s with the album’s epic centerpiece “Into the Gates of Time,” though, that everything gels together, forming a kind of Rosetta Stone for the rest of the album. All of those elements and more are in play; creating an emotionally-charged monster that concludes with four minutes of crickets chirping, briefly accompanied by a lonely acoustic guitar. The album itself concludes with “Haire Pneuma Skoteino,” a (comparatively) straight-ahead number that serves as a declaration of intent. A statement of purpose. And, in its repetition of the line “Hail spirit, spirit noir,” a summation of what this band is. As if to say, “all of which has come before is who we are. We’re Hail Spirit Noir. Pleased to meet you.”
Shake hands, listener. If the world is just, you’re going to have to deal with these Greek diabolicists for a long while. Because they sound like they’re just getting started.