Blood of the Black Owl turns toward ritualistic, goes into primitive corners on ‘WARmth’

Chet BakerThis time of the year is peculiar for me. I love that the weather is hinting colder, that rains last longer and result in breezes rather than steam. I appreciate watching the warmest season of the year fade away and enter decay. It’s also a strange one for me because, as an active, practicing hypochondriac, I know the season of illness is approaching, which always makes me apprehensive of my surroundings.

That’s a weird one, if you can’t relate. The fear of the invisible that can attack your insides, leaving you vulnerable. Washing your hands to a bloody mess is not pleasing, and it’s not always fun to be me sometimes. Yet I try not to let that take away from the appreciation of the seasons and the colder months, when I often do my most intimate music listening. It’s an ideal time to peel away the layers and get more in touch with what’s inside you and that temporary nakedness of nature. Therefore, I always find myself poring through music, trying to find albums in which I can disappear and transform. It takes away from irrational fear, and it reminds me again why I devote so much of my time to metal and its surroundings. I had my first real, profound experience like that this part of the year with Blood of the Black Owl’s new record “WARmth,”one of the most intriguing in that project’s entire collection.

BotBO coverOver the course of five full-lengths and several smaller releases, Chet W. Scott has taken his Blood of the Black Owl project and made it one of the most interesting in all of music. Forget just metal. His canvas is much larger than what a genre or sub-genre provides, and he has expanded that thinking again with the 92-minute “WARmth,” a record that takes some time to fully expose itself. I’ve had the album since around its August release date, and while I like to get on the record closer to when music officially reaches the world, I decided to take my time here. That idea really paid off for me as a listener and a writer. Many may know BotBO for the wrenching, often bizarre-sounding black metal of albums past, and that’s very much a part of the DNA. What you hear continues a path set with “Spirit Canoe: Hailing Father Sky,” the companion EP to 2012’s “Light the Fires!” itself an evolutionary step forward for this project. The music also harkens back to Scott’s Ruhr Hunter (which became Cycle of the Raven Talons) and is music that is rooted in indigenous sounds, nature’s glory, medicinal chants, spiritual awakenings, and ritualistic incantations that will leave you both mesmerized and connected to something you perhaps never considered before. This record is lovely, enrapturing, and invigorating, and despite this project’s past, you cannot assign a label to what you hear on “WARmth.” It must be experienced, not described (even though I’m about to do just that).

“Two Feathers Become Nauthiz” opens the record, and at 16:08, it’s a very involved adventure. Joined by Rachel Boaz-Scott on vocals, the acoustic-led passage slowly makes its way along, with the two chanting, “Awaken,” before harsh cries ring out, woods ambiance makes it presence felt, and even some cosmic weirdness rears its head and smears the colors. The desperation builds, with Chet Scott wailing, “Your spirit comes to me through wood,” as the fires begin to burn anew, sounds churn, voices chant, and the plea, “I ask for your protection,” hangs in the air as the song fades. “Obsidian Clearing Through Dawn” plays a little louder, with whistles rumbling, acoustics rising, and droning voices harmonizing and buzzing through you. Melodies later emerge, as the sky grows cloudy, and then we’re off to “Rise: A Path Towards Seeing” that has shakers, whistles, and singing to rouse your soul. There are wails of, “Rise!” that come along with choral harmonies, making you feel as if you’re at the very foot of a ritual. “The Medicine Within” is a 13:17 sojourn that begins with hushed guitars, dueling layered vocals (clean struggling with gruff), and a haunting, emotional uprising, with horns leading the charge, and the declaration, “It’s time to live again,” followed by soft calls of, “It’s time to seek ourselves.” The tempo calms, knocks provoke, and we round back to an acoustic melody that takes the song to its end. “Hold Horizon Inside” has water trickling to start, with trippy vocal harmonies, droning noises coming from Scott’s throat, and a mesmerizing haze that feels comforting and mind-aligning.

“Shadow Vision: An Illumination of Black Fire!” follows, and its 10:10 trip starts in the arms of lush organs that spill into acoustics and cosmic eeriness. The singing is boisterous here, really pushing through and grabbing you, while much of the music is hushed and folky. Again we’re treated to clouds that seem to have swept in from the stars (a touch I really like), as more growling takes over, letting the feral intensity and calm mix together and fade away. “Solitude: Flame Rekindled Spirit” opens with more water rushing, with Scott noting, “Under the new moon, her senses fill my blood.” Horns blurt out, seeming to signal the arrival of another force, and then the track bursts to life. Acoustic guitars are strummed with might, whistles cry out, a sense of celebration is in the air, and gurgling howls lead the track to its final resting spot. “Luminous in WARmth” has a folk-infused start before it pushes ahead, with whistles firing, strange, psyched-out singing that feels trance-inducing, and chants rolling in again, with recitation of “burning is learning.” That heads into a dreamy sequence that brings a sense of tranquility, setting the stage for the finale “Totems of Transformation.” Acoustic picking rises while bells are struck, with Scott singing quietly, thoughtfully, “If you talk to the animals, they will talk with you,” giving you some insight into a profound connection with nature. Psyche bursts arrive, filling the sky with color and stars you want to stare at for hours. Noises build, growls return to the mix, and some of the words are barked harshly, as if Scott is getting in touch with his animalistic spirit as the track rumbles to its finish.

Unabashedly, I am a big fan of Scott’s music, and I appreciate that with every step in Blood of the Black Owl’s progression, we go somewhere different, unexplored, unimaginable. There are times when I listen to this record that I feel like the music is encircling me, like a restless spirit hoping to rustle me away so I can be enlightened or at least in touch with something more meaningful than the bulk of what makes up everyday life. Fears dissipate, I am awakened, and the primal energy that greets me with every visit to “WARmth” keeps me inspired as a listener and eager to keep taking this journey as the cold melts in warmth again.

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