When the Death card is revealed in a Tarot spread, many misunderstand its significance. Death is an end, yes, but also indicates a beginning. The old must be reaped for the new to grow. Sometimes you must destroy to create. In Norse legend, Odin died upon Yggdrasil and hanged for nine days in order to gain the power he needed to wield in the nine worlds.
The cover of Sister is graced with the face of Barbara Steele as the deceased witch Asa Vadja from Mario Bava’s seminal Italian horror classic Black Sunday. Her face pierced by the Mask of Satan hammered onto her skull in her execution, her eyeless visage gazes upon the viewer in stark black and white. A mournful image with an undercurrent of the curse of revenge.
That sentiment reflects perfectly the tone of In Solitude’s masterful new album, for the specter of Death haunts every track on the record. But this Death is not the end, as a certain Australian gent might say (more on him in a moment); it marks the rebirth of In Solitude as something far greater than they once were.
In Solitude’s previous two albums (2008’s self-titled debut and 2011’s The World. The Flesh. The Devil.) were strictly-defined heavy metal records. NWOBHM-inspired twin guitar attack bolstered with Mercyful Fate vocals and thick with Satanic atmosphere. But the two year break between their previous full-length and Sister has resulted in an almost unimaginably swift maturation in sound. There is still the insistent riffage of previous offerings, but filtered through an almost mid-80s goth filter. The mix this time is murkier, the instrumentation stewing in a swamp of pungent incense smoke and swirling psychedelic undertones. At times the guitar tone takes on a distinct Robert Smith-ish edge (particularly in the early lead liens of “Pallid Hands”), while the arrangements consistently remind me of a much heavier Mission UK or Fields of the Nephilim minus any keyboard reliance.
But it’s vocalist Pelle Åhman whose development is most striking. As mentioned before, his vocals have long been compared with King Diamond’s in Mercyful Fate (as opposed to his solo work, where he’s more likely to break into falsetto at any given moment). His approach has always been controlled, almost mannered, as if he consistently had in mind “this is what Metal Vocals are supposed to sound like.” Not lacking in feeling, but still a carefully composed and crafted delivery. This time around, he resembles nothing less than a young Nick Cave (the Australian gent mentioned above). And not the somber song of Nick the Crooner, but the anguished howling of Nick the Possessed. Barely teetering on the edge of control, his forceful bellow reveals a depth of emotion not experienced on earlier records.
And the aforementioned lyrical content may seem to dwell more on loss than on the Glorification of Our Dark Lord, but He still lurks within those lines. Pelle seems to be indicating that it is through pain and loss that we come to acquire Dark Knowledge. The album opens thusly:
“Like flowers in the tracks of loss
He comes, he comes
Like treading water
Like ailment in the veins of love
He comes, he comes
Like the death of a child
And in the following song, “Death Knows Where,” Pelle sings:
“The truth you bear will murder everything you are
All to nothing
wounded in postures of birth
All to nothing, we yearn
Wounded in masks”
He follows, in “A Buried Sun” with:
“I am serene
as Satan comes
in yearning rifts
where I may die
The brink persuades
She holds a horses head
the cunt of coal
is my loving grave
I shall be there
when the light is swallowed
and the trumpets of heaven
are open sewers”
This theme continues on throughout. The death he sings of is not the death that results in a final closing of experience. This is the kind of death that lifts a veil and reveals the essence of truth. Breaking through to the other side, accessing the power and knowledge that exists beyond this artificial realm of order, into the wellspring of chaos from which all creation arises.
This is gnosis.
This is magick.
This is Sister.