REVIEW: Sylvaine – Nova

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There is something utterly absorbing in the way many a blackgaze outfit blends the atmospheric, ethereal, and light-as-a-feather elements with the barbed and harsh black-metal aesthetics. The blast-beats, tremolo-picked guitars, and snarling shrieks work wonders in tandem with the beautiful, ambient soundscapes and angelic vocals, in particular. The fourth studio album, “Nova,” by the Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Kathrine Shepard, to be released under her artistic alias, SYLVAINE, is due out on March 4th, 2022, via Season of Mist, and the outing will, no doubt, solidify her place in the pantheon of atmospheric metal of this extreme sort. The press release states that every note on the album is haunted with primal sincerity, and I could not agree more. Progressing with the slow-burning, long strokes of post-rock and ambient music, SYLVAINE‘s selection of seven new songs beckons the listener to embark on an emotional journey that undulates between meditative spirituality and raw vulnerability. In a way, the songs resonate with the air of an audio diary. Being a one-woman powerhouse of raw emotion, SYLVAINE quite obviously begs to be compared to MYRKUR, especially to the 2017 album, “Mareridt,” but the new offering also traverses waist-deep in the same haunted shores as bands such as ALCEST, ULVER, and DEAFHEAVEN. Released at the time when the world seems to plunge into the eternal darkness, once again, Shepard‘s chanting atop the dreamy, distorted wall of guitars sounds particularly haunting, at times. The title track, for instance, is a choir piece sung in an imagined language and yet, its multi-layered “nonsense” vocals convey genuine emotion to a chilling effect, sounding almost like a requiem of sorts.

Blackgaze is one of those music genres that definitely benefits from the longer song form. As luck would have it, “Nova” has two songs in the 10-minute range and none of the tracks fall below the 4-minute mark. SYLVAINE‘s previous album, “Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone,” released in 2018, pushed the sonic boundaries of her signature style further rather forcefully – and the first lengthy saga on this new outing, titled “Mono No Aware,” is even more extreme, a tad darker, and layered with a distinct air of melancholy. It’s the perfect blackgaze epic, that is. The next +10-minute composition is the track, “Fortapt.” It is a tad more introspective 12-minute epic, channeling the shoegaze and dream-pop vibes of songs such as “Autre Temps” by ALCEST with some barbed-wire black-metal remarks and angelic, ENYA-like modulations sprinkled here and there.

Speaking of dream-pop, without its black-metal-tinted coda, the track “I Close My Eyes So I Can See” would fit quite nicely on some 1990s shoegaze album classic. The sparkling guitars resonate with the subtle air of bands such as SLOWDIVE and even the drums syncopate in a somewhat 1990s-tinted fashion. Of course, Shephard‘s diverse vocal resonance adds a whole new layer of mystery, making the song defy too-hasty categorization. “Nowhere, Still Somewhere” shares a somewhat similar dream-pop-like undercurrent which is elevated by the multi-layered vocals to a significant degree.

Instead of enlisting members of the folk-metal glitterati, SYLVAINE introduces two surprise guests on the closing track, “Everything Must Come to an End.” The classically trained instrumentalists, violinist Lambert Segura of SAOR and cellist Nostarian aka Patrik Urban, add a distinct cinematic touch to the song. With minimalist movements, the song grows huge enough to move mountains in a somewhat similar manner to the closing track, “Time and Space,” on the 2007 album, “Ma Fleur,” by THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA. Shephard herself says that “the song will go on to manifest itself in different ways but that main guitar part has to be solid enough to emotionally work just by itself.” Surely, the song would have worked as a guitar-and-vocals-only piece quite remarkably, but the slow-burning emotion evoked by the violin and the cello elevate this haunting 8-minute meditation to another plane completely.

The bonus track, “Dissolution,” revisits the somewhat 1990s-tinted dream-pop spheres for another 6 minutes. It serves as a sort of smooth transition back from the cinematic depths of the album’s actual closing track. It might be in order, especially when you listen to the album on repeat, because, let’s face it… you will feel tempted to. In her own words, “Music is an attempt to avoid the words we can’t express in life.” The title track on SYLVAINE‘s new offering, “Nova,” what with its lyrics written in a language that does not even exist, is proof enough that maybe, just maybe, some things are better expressed through music.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Nova
  2. Mono No Aware
  3. Nowhere, Still Somewhere
  4. Fortapt
  5. I Close My Eyes So I Can See
  6. Everything Must Come to an End
  7. Dissolution (bonus track)

Lineup

Sylvaine – vocals, guitars, bass, synths, arrangements

Dorian Mansiaux – drums

Label

Season of Mist

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