Wyrmwoods - No Sun Nor Moon (Inverse)

The more atmospheric side of black metal (BM) has, of late, fallen into quite a frustrating set of critic-baiting trends. Boring ambient sections, uninspired saxophone abuse, and bemusingly incongruous attempts at genre synthesis have plagued the genre, and often all of these issues emerge on the same album.

Wyrmwoods is no stranger to ambience, the saxophone, or bizarre genre blending – but from its undulating beginning, No Sun Nor Moon provides an authentically unusual yet powerfully immersive version of BM. Perhaps taking a note from the recent death metal playbook of bands like UniversallyEstranged, who embrace the sci-fi ideas of their old-school predecessors and blend them with equally old-school synths, Wyrmwoods builds upon the arboreal horrors that have pervaded BM since the 90s, and mingles them with New Age music’s more tranquil view of nature. Breathy synths, woodwind solos, and delicate keys are all interspersed with guitars both pensive and malevolent to breathe life into this canny dichotomy. This gives the solitary Nuurag-Vaarn a huge palette to work with, and with it he paints lurid and wonderful visions.

With this range of timbre, Wyrmwoods makes a lot of unusual yet successful experiments. While tracks such as “Year of Dearth” place infectious riffs at their centre to fully engage the listener, the gazey soothsaying of “Mother of Maladies” invokes the drone-like style of Dutch bands like Fluisteraars, using BM as the undertone for sullen vocals, soaring saxophones, and a mournful clean guitar melody. While sonically No Sun Nor Moon never goes amiss, these changes in songwriting don’t always reach their full potential – “Mother of Maladies” could certainly have been developed further, and ultimately feels a little barebones alongside the more elaborate pieces on the record.

Where this project really excels beyond its genre contemporaries is pacing, both within songs and in its albumcraft. The frenetic basswork of “Oberon’s Forest”, the most impressive cut on the album, gives its denser sections a vicious energy, but when the heaviness dissipates into a synthetic backdrop, this rhythm maintains the track’s energy. Soothing guitar atmospherics segue into an outrageously funky key solo, while drums transition fluidly between blastbeats and more reserved timekeeping. The blending of genre and tone between BM, funk, and New Age ambient is absurd on paper. However, as Laster did in their 2017 magnum opus Ons Vrije Fatum (using post-punk and dance music), Wyrmwoods has perfectly combined these disparate elements to create a truly dynamic piece of music – when the track concludes with a more straightforward approach to the genre, this comes as a well-earned catharsis. Even the less hectic compositions on the record are meticulous. “Over the Disorganised Immortal”  hosts a prowling, almost mischievous bassline which lays the groundwork for a lounge sax and tangled guitar plucking. Concluding each side come ambient tracks, which blend New Age calm with dungeon synth anxieties, allowing the listener to reflect upon the madness that has transpired, while avoiding cliché and maintaining attention.

If this seems like a lot to take in, you'd be right. The first few listens felt very disorienting, the heady mixture of surprising left-turns, riveting energy, and dense instrumentation catching the ear off guard. The more one listens, however, the more No Sun Nor Moon's warped internal logic begins to make perfect sense, and very quickly the album becomes a smooth and welcoming excursion that beckons the mind to a fantastical realm.