Not so long ago, in the coastal rain forests of the Pacific Northwest of the so-called United States, a response was crafted by a network of metal musicians who appreciated the markedly descriptive subject matter of Scandinavian Black Metal and its reverence for the natural world in which was written. Forged from both the innate beauty of the fecund landscapes and the intensity of the long, gray winters, Cascadian Black Metal became its own subcategory of an already finespun musical taxonomy. Known for its lengthy compositions, compound melodies, and pervasive airiness, the genre ballooned to indecipherable infamy in the hearts of respectable old heads the world over until the very utterance of its title drew the ire of an average pentagram-adorned hulk, starved of brew or dame. In their sophomore release Golden Hour, Olympia’s Awenden seeks to contribute to all of the above while proclaiming an acute political stance along the way.
The record is thoroughly conceptual with extended ambient intros and outros courtesy of featured musicians from regional heavy-hitters Skagos, Fauna, and Strangeweather, creating terrain rooted in the patience and immortality of wilderness itself. Visions of pattering rain, crashing waves, and falling redwoods dot the sonic scene utilizing expansive low-end synth saws and echoic far-flung flute passages. The body of the songs themselves tend more to convention with tremolo picked guitar leads over chugging melancholy, and sometimes triumphant chord progressions all supported by blasted back beats and half time thunder pulses. The compositions themselves ebb and flow naturally and never feel contrived or impetuous while carrying the torch to the next murky cave. While vocals meld well into the background with mostly high pitched hollow screeches or full-chested roars, the final track showcases a beautiful harmony arrangement from guest vocalists before drowning yet again into a desperate requiem for habitability and balance.
With similarities to their debut, Golden Hour often references the existential battle to return to an equilibrium with the natural world after an intense century of alienating ourselves from it. As some of the last regional old-growth is logged and the waters get threatened with pipelines and privatization, any sentient being can’t help but feel bewildered and debased in what appears to be an extinction event not seen since dinosaurs reigned. Of course, many humans are already facing the consequences of this estrangement as millions of climate refugees flood over imaginary national borders to secure an economic and ecological livelihood for themselves thus spurning a predictable backlash from xenophobes, industrialists and authoritarians. All of these elements have undoubtedly coalesced into genocidal brood of egomaniacs hell-bent on destroying what slim chance of a livable future many of us have left by seizing the reigns of political power the world over and beginning to enact further constraints on individual autonomy, resulting in a corporatism reminiscent of the fascistic regimes that plagued much of the world several generations ago. There has been surprisingly little in the way of political music this round as many favor burying their heads in the sand. However, leftist black metal is experiencing its loftiest heyday concurrently and Awenden is prime testament to it.