Hail Spirit Noir - Oi Magoi [Code 666 - 2014]Hail Spirit Noir is a black metal influenced progressive rock band, formed in 2010 by core members Haris and Theoharis, who had previously played together in such bands as Trancending Bizarre? and Rex Mundi. Their 2nd LP, recently released in 2013, is titled "Oi Magoi", and contains 7 songs averaging 7 minutes in length.
Alongside melancholic distorted tremolos and soaring adapted folk passages, they place smokey blues guitar leads and chilled jazzy breakdowns. Their primary goal, it seems, is to cultivate an aura of fairytale mystery and haunting intrigue; one of a shade several shades more sensitive and romantic than the atmosphere found in brooding, misanthropic black metal. The band's eclectic blend of styles may seem ambitious or unlikely until one considers that none of the riffs found on this album would be out of place on an Opeth record. Like Opeth, the band loves a waltzing 3/4 mid-paced pulse and a lush soundspace.
Where Mikael Akerfeldt used the term "death metal" in interviews, this band says "black metal", but the musical style is really quite similar, and I find it to be separate from either genre of extreme metal, in all aspects except guitar tone, and a dark woodsy mood. This style of music has too much breathing room and melodicism for such labels, and incorporates aspects of 70's prog such in an identical way to Opeth's "Damnation" or "Ghost Reveries", as evidenced by the use of mellotrons and flute synth patches and smooth 'bardic' vocals in songs like "Satan Is Time".
This makes the band sound like imitators, and indeed, to an extent they are, but ultimately their interplay is impressive and expressive, particularly in the guitar department. I would go so far as to say every lick played on the album is delicious. The lightly distorted playing shows a firm grasp of chord structures, and the things that make melodies concise, circular and memorable. The heavily arpeggiated keyboard playing is a bit overbearing, as it tends to be in progressive rock, as it feels a bit bright and shiny for the context of dark folk and metal, much as it did on Opeth's "Ghost Reveries".
The only real reason why I have a less than positive opinion of the band is the blunt cheesiness of the lyrics and vocals, which serve to tarnish the atmosphere the band has striven to create on many occasions. With such stunted phrases "The hunters - they hunt you!" uttered time and time again (it's the chorus of "Hunters"), or the chant from "Satan is Time", which goes something like "Satan is time, satan is time, Satan! ... Satan! ... (repeat)", I have a hard time saying I actually like these songs. Opeth's lyrical content may not have been riveting, but until the last couple of years Akerfelt managed not to take me out of his music to such an extent that I laughed. In terms of authentic fantasy atmosphere, if Opeth is "Lord of the Rings", this is "Twilight". If you need a soundtrack for your next D&D game or MMORPG escapade, this would be perfect, but if you're not one for stories about satyrs and mermaids, steer clear.
In conclusion, Hail Spirit Noir's "Oi Magoi" is a mixed bag, an album that on one hand is full of great playing and ethereal melodies, and on the other hand feels cheesy and 'overdone', a sound marketed to the established fans of Opeth and grimm forest tales. Some of the riffs on this album are the best I've heard in recent memory, but they're going to have to change something in order for me to develop an emotional connection to what they're doing; the multi-faceted instrumental narrative falls flat with such cliched thematic and lyrical elements attached to it.Josh Landry