Written by Kep
>Liminal Shroud – All Virtues Ablaze
>British Columbia, Canada
>Releasing August 5
Canadian black metallers Liminal Shroud had a relatively quiet coming out party when they released their debut full-length in late 2020 via Hypnotic Dirge. It wasn’t quiet for lack of quality; on the contrary, Through the False Narrows was a very good album, and one that I still hold among my favorites of that year. But for whatever reason it seemed to fall through the cracks, getting swept in amongst a sea of great releases in the first plague year. Now, two years later, here we are with a second Liminal Shroud release on our hands, and I’m pretty damn sure people are going to take notice this time.
The reason I’m so sure? All Virtues Ablaze is stunning, a triumph on multiple levels and a vast step up from their previous work. All three members shine, the songwriting is masterful, and the production is spot on. Hell, the only complaint I can muster is that I wish the album were longer, so that I’d have more of it to listen to.
There’s a moment just after the five-minute mark in opener “Hypoxic” that convinced me to buy in completely on what Liminal Shroud has created here. It’s at that point that the music pitches forward bodily, taking the most notable elements of the preceding passage—a beautifully mournful triple meter motif with a simple melodic idea built into it—and driving them forward in headlong fashion with a brand new metric concept that fits deftly into the existing tempo and meter. This is a theme of the album: a willingness to change things up dramatically, keeping the tracks fresh and interesting, and the undeniable ability to do it without ever losing the musical thread. It’s nothing short of outstanding, and it happens over and over again throughout All Virtues Ablaze.
That stellar songwriting ability combines with significant moments from all three members of the band to form a cohesive and affecting whole. Every listen has found me tuning into a different instrument, turning my ear towards a new element of the composition style, and each time I’ve been blown away. Take “Mists Along Florencia”, with its thoughtful arpeggiated opening melody, and the way that it slowly builds toward a forward shift in tempo just before the two-minute mark. That continuing build, which finally arrives at its fruition around 3:00, feels so deeply meaningful, full of an aching melancholy that slowly grows more and more painful until it bursts. The combined vocal attack of guitarist Aidan Crossley (lead) and bassist Rich Taylor shines on this song, heartwrenching and powerful and despairing all at once. The track comes to a head after the seven-minute mark with a series of immense pillars of tremoloed chords separated by brief moments of silence, an eruption of frustration and bitterness that explodes into a wild ending stretch full of abandon.
The back half of the album’s four-track, 40-minute runtime is a two-part suite entitled “Transmigration”, and it’s here within this more broad and odyssean scope that the band does its best work. “Transmigration I: Pelagic Voids” begins ominously, a hurricane approaching on the horizon, deliberately growing in intensity until it arrives with the storm’s full fury and engulfs the listener in the gale. There’s a notable midpoint passage of calm—the eye of the hurricane’s uneasy peace—and the band uses its melodic ideas to build the song’s second fierce half. “Transmigration II: The Cleansing Ash” similarly grows from its quiet piano opening, passing the keyboard motif to the bass and then climbing til a clever rhythmic shift brings my favorite riff on the album: a line that repeatedly struggles upward in steps and then cascades back to its starting point in a futile circle. The track passes through throes of furious anguish (and there’s a brief and notable use of deep, chesty growls to exemplify it), moments of layered breathy cleans that feel cleansing and almost chant-like, and a final enormous sequence of majestic mourning and the last four desperate cries of the broken soul seeking transcendence.
The album’s individual performances are all exemplary and are even more moving as a whole. Crossley’s guitar tone is perfectly suited to the intimate struggle and heartbreak of his riffwork, a thick sound with plenty of body but with enough of a jagged edge to rip and tear in violently anguished passages. Taylor’s performance on the bass is an absolute beacon that should set the standard for the instrument in black metal. He’s precise, active, powerful, and the bass is an integral part of the band’s songwriting, particularly in the “Transmigration” suite, where it takes the lead in moments of multiple motifs. It’s a goddamn delight to listen to, and the mixing (massive hat tip to recording engineer Matt Roach) balances it impeccably against the other instruments. I also consistently found my ear drawn to the drumming of Drew Davidson, which is uniformly phenomenal. He’s rock solid across the board and technically excellent, but his fills and the cymbal hits he chooses on this record have launched him to near the top of my favorite black metal drummers. It’s always interesting, uses minimal repetition, and feels stirring without being obtrusive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Liminal Shroud’s sophomore outing deserves recognition as some of the best black metal of 2022 so far and a quantum leap from their impressive debut. I’ve found All Virtues Ablaze to be deeply impactful, using masterful performances and quality songwriting to touch on the intimacies of personal struggle in a way that feels eminently relatable and cathartic. Be sure to make time for this one.