SEAR BLISS - Phantoms (II MOONS - CD 1996)
I don’t know too many Hungarian bands, but among all those, which I do know and remember about Sear Bliss is definitely the best. This one band definitely stands above the rest of their (usually mediocre) scene and is also the only Hungarian act, which I regularly buy and collect, every time they release something new. Why? Well, it is simple – first, they have very original and characteristic style, which makes their music so special. Furthermore, they never putted out a bad album, never shamed themselves with weak and uninteresting record. Sure, some albums I like more, some less, but in total Sear Bliss is very solid and worthy band. And that’s not something common, right? I regularly come back to Sear Bliss CDs, their earlier stuff mainly and just recently I was thinking if / will they release something new? It’s been already three years since their last album “Eternal Recurrence” and seven since “The Arcane Odyssey”. So, maybe it’s time to do something new? And when thinking about it, I went through all Sear Bliss albums, starting with the excellent debut “Phantoms”. And because this record impress me so much every time I listen to it, I also decided to write few words about it, to remind you not only this excellent CD, but also Sear Bliss, who I think are still slightly underrated in the extreme (black) metal scene.
Sear Bliss for me are the masters of atmospheric, monumental black metal. Their music was always characterized by a unique mixture of harshness and obscure black metal, with a lot of atmosphere and melody. Since their early days Sear Bliss had special, exceptional riffs, brilliant arrangements, which make them sound like no other band around… and finally obviously they’re also known for using the trumpets, which add a special flavor and feeling to the music, making it sound even more epic, monumental or whatever you wanna call it. Important is that the results are always very good. And “Phantoms”, released in 1996 by Mascot Records sub-label called II Moons, is definitely among by favourite recordings of Sear Bliss. What an excellent debut it is. What a stunning music, brilliant compositions and everything!
One of the biggest strengths of Sear Bliss and albums like “Phantoms” is the diversity of the material here. More so, Sear Bliss is doing so well with both aggressive and more atmospheric playing, that both styles fit together perfectly, complement each other and are a unity. And the sound of the album can be described as powerful and monumental, aggressive but sometimes almost melancholic and even beautiful hehe although I know this word may freak you out hehe! That diversity can be noticed in almost every song. “Far Above the Trees” is slow, monumental, sorrowful piece, which really evokes that nostalgic feeling, with some heavy riff and dreamy keyboards. This very easily listenable, memorable tune is followed by “Aeons of Desolation”, which basically provides similar patterns, the atmosphere is quite alike, it’s melancholic, nostalgic, the music is again rather slow, but even heavier, when Sear Bliss adds the trumpets and the finish is very symphonic – and how awesome it sounds! Yeah, I love how well the band combines melody with heavy riff and harsh black metal vocals, which by the way have such a strong accent that maybe it will take you a while before you get used to them (tone of the voice is similar to Gehenna’s Sanrabb, but add the accent to it!). Definitely “Aeons of Desolation” is among my favourite tracks on this album. It is a killer anthem, so memorable, so perfectly arranged and performed. But “Phantoms” is built in strange way; it begins with slower, more epic songs and the closer to its end then the more uncompromising and faster the music becomes. Already “1100 Years Ago” will surprise with more uncompromising black metal attack, including some blasting parts (hey, the first line of the lyrics is “Oh Lord, let us fire every church…” hehe!), but obviously it all is also combined with a lot of atmospheric passages, again with some powerful sound of the trumpet, acoustic intermission and great harmonies. But then we have such fine examples for diversity of Sear Bliss music like “As the Bliss Is Burning”, “Beyond the Darkness” and “With Mournful Eyes”, which all are mainly concentrated on fast, blasting black metal, but spiced with some monumental breaks. And trumpets again! And that is really powerful,
So, what about those trumpets? Well, they appear here and there, more as a filler to the riffs, to make it sound even more powerful and monumental and surprisingly it did give the wanted result! I am always really astonished how well it sounds and that they actually fit such music perfectly. And I am sure that if the brass section was replaced by keyboards then the result would not be as good and interesting.
And last thing… the artwork. All these early Sear Bliss releases have awesome pictures painted by Kris Verwimp. “Phantoms” is also really nice one. It presents a white female figure, White Witch, which releases an eagle – which as far as I remember represents a human soul. Another important things showed on the painting are two trees with wooden female figures melted / devoured into these trees. And finally a snake in the roots of the left tree, hiding in its little cave.
So, how I can resume this review? Do I have to really? It is just splendid, 50 minutes of great, almost perfect music, which I could listen to over and over again. I am very impressed and again I can only wonder how the hell is it possible that Sear Bliss and “Phantom” are still so little known and that hard to find? Absolute recommendation.
Standout tracks: “Aeons of Desolation”, “1100 Years Ago”
Final rate: 90/100