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Spectral Realm – Spectral Witch Of The Hex River

Spectral Realm
Spectral Witch Of The Hex River
by Santiago Puyol at 10 September 2020, 10:48 AM

South African Black Metal band SPECTRAL REALM have released their second full-length, "Spectral Witch Of The Hex River" this past July, 2020. Throughout ten tracks, including two instrumental interludes, the band develops a Symphonic Black Metal sound, with theatrical arrangements, atmospheric passages and a considerable range of outside influences coming into play.

"A Tragic Tale Of A Spirits Creation" is a haunting symphonic intro, with delicate piano playing and bombastic strings and timpani. Subtle choral voices add to the ambiguous nature of the track. Crackling fire eases the listener into the next move. It abruptly transitions into "Attachment Of Her Possession". Melodrama runs through this bands blood. Although clearly Black Metal, there is a dash of Power Metal and Prog Metal theatrics in the mix, making it a fun approach. Exquisite guitar work by Lord Onyr, his soloing is very tasteful and emotional. It gets a tad too chaotic with time signature changes towards the end.

"Phantoms And Silhouettes" doubles down on the melodramatic theatrics, adding sound effects to the mix of Black Metal and orchestral arrangements. It gets groovy and nasty for its middle third, with the catchiest, busiest bass work Andromeda gets to lay down on the record.

Coming next, "The Ambiguous Quest" builds upon an earworm of a riff, catching your attention from the very start. The addition of spoken word vocals here and there helps give a bit of variety from a vocal standpoint. Lord Onyr gets to shred again, a highlight of the song and album. A proggy track with strong songwriting that manages to go through tempo and time signature changes without feeling disjointed or chaotic.

Another memorable, melodic riff makes the backbone of the poetically titled "Petals Reflecting Moonlight". Some spidery guitar by Lord Onyr and subtle but effective synth orchestrations by Neville Cameron Shield. Very theatrical, with everything and evil laughs. A beautiful synth coda caps off what might be the best written song on the record.

"A Macabre Romanticism" puts the piano on the forefront lending a bit of a Gothic feel. Neville Cameron Shield shows range through his piano playing, with more classically inspired sections and some deconstructed bluesy runs. Although not as strong as the previous two tracks, it still makes for a solid mid-album run, a surprising feat considering it is usually the spot where most albums falter.

Things go back to symphonic mayhem with "A Dark Mindset And A Magical Presence". Once again, the band tries some time signature changes that do not entirely gel together, leaving the structure a bit uneven and not entirely satisfying. The track feels more interesting when it adheres to the swingy 6/8 from its verses and goes full symphonic, with a string motif that is catchy as hell. Some of the Neoclassical-inspired instrumental sections also work well. The overall feel is the band crammed to many ideas together and sacrificed a solid structure in the way.

"Suicidia Follows Hauntingly" lives up to its adverb with some horror film soundtrack tricks like enigmatic choruses and brief circus-y melodic ideas. An extremely short folky, orchestrated break, adds to this feel. Overall, there is a dark gothic horror feel to the track, blended effectively most of the time with the Black Metal sound.

The circus-y, Gothic vibe introduced on the previous track gets amped up in the interlude "A Labyrinth Of Thoughts", with its synths waltzing along like a twisted carrousel tune, and its piano evoking both the haunting tunes of Halloween and The X Files. A couple of sound effects complete the picture. It functions almost like a coda for "Suicidia".

The title track functions as closer and it is also the longest song here, almost seven minutes in length. A dramatic slab of Symphonic Black Metal, it ebbs and flows through several changes, with considerable ease. The songwriting is solid and this band has the skills to pull it off, never feeling disjointed, even if the drumming does falter a couple of times, sounding a little off. "Spectral Witch Of The Hex River" ends with a poignant coda; soft acoustic guitar –quite reminiscent of early OPETH acoustic breaks– and field sound recordings, a little natural ambience and songbird.

SPECTRAL REALM show their vision and a clear sense of adventure on "Spectral Witch Of The Hex River", and although there are some strong moments and they are clearly an skilled and talented bunch, not everything works here.

Although the album is not really on the long side, it could have used some trimming as some of the tracks do meander a little bit. The band should be commended for their willingness to explore unusual song structures, but sometimes a more straightforward approach to songwriting can be better than trying to shift things up. The band succeeds when it commits to more traditional song structures ("Petals Reflecting Moonlight") or when they have enough time to introduce time signature and tempo changes ("The Ambiguous Quest", the title track).

From a production point of view, the dynamics are completely screwed. Tracks get too loud or too soft without a clear reason. Heavy, guitar-led sections can be extremely loud in one song and extremely soft in the next one. The same happens with softer sections, or the intro song being louder than most of the record in spite of being a piano-led, symphonic instrumental. The mixing is quite average, it is average and never intrusive in any way, and I was truly impressed by how prominent the bass is in comparison to most Black Metal records.

"Spectral Witch Of The Hex River" is an album that shows promise for SPECTRAL REALM as their strengths are quite clear. With minor changes and better production values, I have no doubt they could be delivering a better record next time around!

Songwriting: 6
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 7
Production: 4

3 Star Rating

1. A Tragic Tale Of A Spirits Creation
2. Attachment Of Her Spirits Possession
3. Phantoms And Silhouettes
4. The Ambiguous Quest
5. Petals Reflecting Moonlight
6. A Macabre Romanticism
7. A Dark Mindset And A Magical Presence
8. Suicidia Follows Hauntingly
9. A Labyrinth Of Thought
10. Spectral Witch Of The Hex River
Lord Onyr – Lead guitar
Septic Septre – Vocals
Ethorius – Guitars
Andromeda – Bass
Calvyn – Drums
Neville Cameron Shield – Keyboards
Record Label: Independent


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Edited 01 October 2020

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