Arvalastra - Meditation on the Lunar Steppes (His Wounds)

We cover a lot of strange and unconventional metal here at Mutant Breakfast, and much of it is brimming with exotic sounds from instruments that aren't typically associated with the genre. Almost all of it, however, features electric guitar. Chords and riffs are the fundamental units of metal's syntax, and the genre's primal aesthetic was arguably predicated on the instrument's fortuitous synergy with distortion effects. It's hard to imagine black metal (BM) without its dizzying tremolo runs and pinch harmonics, or death metal (DM) without its punchy, chugging power chords. It's unclear whether the guitar's preeminence owes to its centrality in metal's primordial roots in blues, or if it's just its status as a barely subliminal phallic symbol. Either way, the genre wouldn't be the same without it.

Arvalastra is one of a handful of avant-garde metal artists that experiment with removing the guitar from the formula. Much like the DM paleontologists in Thecodontion and Neoandertals, who add rumbling heft to their low-end by tapping bass and baritone guitars as surrogates, or Bog Body and Bell Witch, who respectively explore the yin and yang of atmo-doom, the Basque artist limits his project to electric and acoustic bass, drums, and a microphone. His fifth album, Meditation on the Lunar Steppes, offers an arid take on atmospheric BM that's hooded with gnostic mysticism, drawing equally from ceremonial occult-psych and the kind of droney, OM-esque doom that would make Aleister Crowley grin like a Cheshire cat. These tracks sway like a charmed cobra and shiver like heat haze, and the relatively skeletal and repetitive songwriting transforms riffs into rituals, deliberately invoking a fraught state of hypnagogia.  "Saturn's Scythe" stands out the most, with its hissing sandstorm of shattered chakra crystals undulating in crypt-sized reverb and crackling fuzz. Not only is it a perfect example of Arvalastra's hypnotic, pseudo-ambient desert sorcery, it's also ample evidence that you don't need a guitar to sound deeply evil.