German black metal dreamers Heretoir mix sweeping melodies with devastation on ‘The Circle’

Every day, while seemingly a big deal at the time, is just one drop in an entire, huge process. From the beginning of our cycle to the end, each day can feel like it’s the most important thing in our lives at a particular moment. But when examined as a whole, it’s simply a minor shift up or down over our life’s trajectory. Oh, and we’re all going to fucking die.

Anyway, German black metal band Heretoir are well aware of these things, and that’s the focal point of their excellent new record “The Circle.” It’s a pretty sensible title, as the band examines the process of existence from birth, through one’s development, and into death. With a particular nod toward the sun, one of the driving forces of life here on Earth and wherever else it may exist in our solar system, the band goes on an 11-track journey that tracks all those steps as one progresses from birth to the grave. And this doesn’t necessarily just have to do with one’s life. It could be a project, a specific life cycle, a band, whatever. There’s always a beginning and end point, and this is a clean, linear look at that. The band—vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Eklatanz, guitarist Max F., bassist/backing vocalist Nathanael, drummer Nils Groth—delivers this first Heretoir collection in six years, the only full-length in their existence to feature members other than Eklatanz. It’s a bit of a grower, at least it was for me, but multiple listens help this thing sink into your pores and enlighten your brain.

“Alpha” is a watery, slightly gothy opening instrumental that’s dark and atmospheric, and then it’s into “The White” that fittingly has an atmosphere that reminds of winter. The music pours as the words are sung, leading into sludgy, crushing terrain where the growls emerge. Later, the music gets lush and gazey, with a prog-fueled trudge and calls echoing out. “Inhale” is the first of a few lengthier cuts, this going 7:15 and starting clean. As the song pushes along, the singing merges into growls as the temperature rises, and as the intensity builds, the cut takes on a sort of classic scream feel. The shrieks pelt you, while a calm trickling washes over before the sounds swarm again and swim to the finish. “Golden Dust,” a direct tribute to the sun, is airy and emotional, with Eklatanz calling, “I will follow you.” This one is immersed as much in dark rock as it is black metal, and the flood gates open and rage toward the finish. “My Dreams Are Lights in the Sky” starts as an acoustic rush before the volume arrives and knocks you backward. A melodic charge erupts, crushing the senses, before a burst of warmth changes the surroundings, and lead guitars bleed away. “XIX XXI XIV” is a short instrumental with cold, foggy hillsides, bells ringing, and a dream-like state carrying you off.

“Exhale” begins with slow-driving playing and harsh growls, with the music going cold, and clean singing stretching everywhere. Most of the song remains in mid-tempo, but toward the end, the doors get blown off. Drums crush everything, the vocals go for broke, and a huge ending sails off. “Eclipse” trudges and chews at first. Melodic singing and soaring guitars swell, with growls rushing and leads piercing. The track then veers toward wrenching doom, with the cut tearing open again, growls lacerating, and a proggy finish. “Laniakea Dances (Soliels Couchants)” begins a run of three long tracks that wrap the record, this one starting with clean, propulsive waves. Loud and tranquil sounds mingle, as pianos drip in, with the singing stinging, and a gentle tempo taking us out. “Fading With the Grey” emerges as noises rise before the song tears itself apart. Giant shrieks rattle bones, with tricky playing perplexing, and then the song floats into the atmosphere. Cries echo, as a child’s voice arrives, pushing the narrative, and then growls shatter any sense of calm. The journey picks up again as the song reaches its end, and it slips out with the soaring singing. “The Circle (Omega)” finishes the tale in a halo of strings and then an emotional blast. Dreariness casts a pall over the heart as the vocals turn to wild cries, and a tranquil section gives way to the song lighting up again. Final cries make their impact, and the track soars off into the night on a bed of strings.

Heretoir’s subject matter on “The Circle” is something that should strike home for all of us, and their passage from first song to last feels like they’ve captured the journey of existence pretty damn well. The music is rich and huge, and the songs are packed with undeniable emotion. This is an album with which you should set time aside to experience. This isn’t background noise. It’s way too important subject matter for that type of listening.

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