WHISPERS IN THE SHADOW
"Beyond The Cycles Of Time"
The best goth ambassadors of Austria worldwide, Whispers in the Shadow, have recently brought to a close their occult-inspired tetralogy by the release of "Beyond The Cycles Of Time". It's no less than the eighth full-length album to their credit and through it the band's mastermind, Ashley Dayour, makes us sharers in his particular Rubedo, thereby culminating Whispers' version of the four-stage alchemical process of transformation. It's now, thus, six years since the journey began and reviewing it one can't but take the hat off to such a meticulous and commendable work. In addition to the title mentioned above, the saga comprises "Into The Arms Of Chaos" (2008), "The Eternal Arcane" (2010) and "The Rites Of Passage" (2012). All of them are interlinked through the crafted lyrics, featuring no shortage of imagery based on occultism, esoterism, ceremonial magic, religion, weird fiction - the list would be endless, and it's the same with the music where, indeed, words find their perfect embodiment. Although the four albums are very different from one another, as each of them is related to a specific phase of the alchemist's transmutation. Thematically, this series addresses the self-recreation by cyclic fusion of spirit and matter to overcome death, space and time. In particular, "Beyond The Cycles Of Time" deals with the final incarnation of soul, just after its 'illumination' through the rites celebrated on the third stage/album. However, contrary to the spiritual fulfillment that could be expected, there's a persistent feeling of emptiness, anxiety and restlessness lurking beneath the tracks of this outcome. We're embarked now on the fourth phase, where the newly purified consciousness seeks for a vehicle to incarnate into. It needs to be awakened cause otherwise it could return to its original impure. That's why the switching between warm and cold is constant throughout the songs. On the one hand, everything seems destroyed, scoured away by a synth winter, while rhythms and melodies activate the germ of something truly ominous. On the other, Ashley's distinctive timbre manages to colour the blackened ambiances, even though detachment and desperation seize his voice as the cycle nears to its completion. Precisely, this bleak contrast is one of the strengths of "Beyond The Cycles Of Time", which in turn confirms the band's capacity to surprise with each new release. They stay creatively courageous despite almost two decades have passed since the project's inception.
Probably, the song that better illustrates that challenge and by extension more atypical is the instrumental "Lilitu's Claws" whose emphasized bass and infectious beats provide it a groovy back bone. Around it, jarring noises, twisted strings and sampled invocations take a threatening shape, while the melodious synths broaden the structure and partially raise the mood of the track. It sounds delightfully mechanical, balancing experimental witch-house elements with late 80s industrial groundings without losing Whispers' own identity. "Left Hand Anthem" is also backed by sweeping keys and thundering bass thrums, but on this occasion we're plunged into a techno reverie of vintage electronics and aseptic atmosphere that recalls the darkest side of Gary Numan. For its part, "Crossroads" introduces the album with somber epicness, placing us in thematical context. It comes through penetrating, gritty guitar loads that imbue the tune with a doomy feeling which is further replaced by tuneful gloom when the choruses enter and thus the song slides into warm temperate areas. "His Name Is Legion" gives continuity in a catchier way, pressing harder on the pedal and emitting a brighter glow from the strings and vocals. However, the clear winner in terms of anthemic driving is "The End Of Future". There's an endless loop of worrying, highly adhesive piano, and classic riffs paired with a rumbling, Cure-esque bass line that holds the track's reins together with the steady percussion. This start brings me to mind Nosferatu's "Rise"-era but, progressively, the song incorporates more layers of winding guitars, the voices unfold in resinous choruses and all leads to a spherical, throughly enjoyable last third. Swaying in hypnotic cadences and mercurial tunes, "Safe & Sound" overcomes the laws of gravity and so succeeds to drive home the power of the lyrics: "... / Show me a dream / Give me the words / Show me a sign / Cross the line / Deep under ground / We have found our / Safe & sound / In a room with no door". "The Sacrament" crawls over swampy lands to the sinous rhythms, leaving behind sharp smells of incense and blood. Distant-sounding distortions, vapours and swirls give the final touch to the unsettling, ritualistic picture. "Incantation" is thrown to mysterious realms through an ancient Mediterranean-flavored twanging and gradually the song reveals its mournful power in the flanger-soaked string figures and the expansive keyboard mists. It's spectrally dense, introspective and definitely lives up its title. The smoky, cinematic western chords in "Agent Of Chaos" unavoidably conjure up Fields of the Nephilim while "Adversial Light" gets back into experimental synth matters. Barely some dismal notes from piano and noisy flirtations are enough to pave the way for the thrilling obscurity of the closer track. "The Departure" is widescreen suggestive in spite of its freezing, minimalist ambiance. The crowning moment comes when memorable, hard-edged guitar solos burst into the nightmarish scene, putting the listener's sensitivity to the test. More than six minutes of drowning-metaphor symphony that not only give the best gold seal to this album but also to the whole alchemical cycle, leaving us flying into chaos, impressed and eager to repeat such an epic journey.
"The serpent... can shade its skin to be born again..." and so could be applied to this record in a sense, as it treasures a modern-day version of the ambitious and revealing music which only could be heard in the past by playing those mythical vinyls in reverse.
Review by Billyphobia