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Luminous Veil’s new record is a technical accomplishment

The remote, collaborative black metal duo aim high on “Vespers For The Loom And Lain.”

Photo: A dark, grainy, and lightly blurred black-and-white shot centers a faintly-visible young man standing behind an ornate, front-lit fixture. The near-indecipherable setting could be a garden as easily as it could a graveyard.

Brian Doering and William Wolfe comprise the self-described post-black metal duo Luminous Veil—split between Madison and Havre de Grace, Maryland—recording their parts remotely and file-sharing until their material is complete. Doering handles vocals, synths, sampling, and the technical production elements, while Wolfe takes care of guitar and bass. Their technical facility and focus on realizing their artistic vision can’t be praised enough.

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As someone who has also recorded aggressive music remotely and shares personal links to the Midwest and East Coast, I can say with confidence that Luminous Veil has accomplished a highly difficult feat. Their latest record, Vespers For The Loom And Lain, released by Bulgarian label BMC Productions, is enormously widescreen, cinematic without overreaching, beautifully engineered, and obsessively overdubbed. Its bombastic mix of high-quality sound and performance could soundtrack any number of Game Of Thrones epic battle scenes without much difficulty.

However, that specificity also neatly brings up the next point: this is music that can take some time to adjust to, especially for a fan who’s not naturally open to the specific pomp that comes with modern black metal. Especially the more atmospheric strain of the subgenre that’s informed by post-rock and classical music, which is a trait that’s on full display in Vespers‘ string sections.

Doubtlessly synthesized, but nevertheless realistic, complete, and deeply complex orchestral arrangements embellish every track on Vespers. While they were planned down to the last filigree, and are deeply impressive for it (glockenspiels even appear here, for God’s—or Satan’s—sake), they’re also indicative of Luminous Veil’s penchant for music that requires a listener’s willingness to buy into their conceptual whimsy. If you’re not in the mood to submit to black metal that sounds this elaborate and stone-facedly serious, the group’s music can sound much closer to grandiose than grand.

There isn’t a lot here for the listener if they end up thinking the entire enterprise is a bit much, as evidenced by the album’s major bookends (“Wistful Contraction In The Heart Of Blight” and “Last Days In The Charnel House”), which aim for unsettling, sweeping depth but don’t quite reach those heights. That said, the theatrics of metal have always required a suspension of disbelief, and Luminous Veil is no different from any other number of local or nationally renowned metal acts in that regard.

Make no mistake, the band rocks as well and viciously as any other black metal ensemble. The drumming is intricate, hard-charging, and thoughtful. The low-mixed vocals are often as venomous and frothing as any number of shriekers in the genre, from Dead (of Mayhem) to Nathan Weaver (of Wolves In The Throne Room). The guitars grind, churn, and tremolo-pick with a razor-edged, trebly intensity befitting any well-produced black metal album. While the orchestral arrangements are a big part of the songs (and fairly original in their application), Vespers is full of relentless energy and a suite-like construction where the guitars are clearly at the heart of all things.

However, it can take a while to hear the guitar-driven composition underneath the arrangements. One of the album’s consistent problems is those orchestral trappings. While impressively rendered, they are so fanatically detailed and constant that they often end up distracting from the actual riffage a fair amount of the time, as is the case on “Cloistered In Crepuscular Forbearance.” The continual tension between the engrossing detail of the orchestra and the tight, intense precision of the band’s take on black metal is a key fixture of their sound but, ultimately, the two elements tend to feel imbalanced. You may have to listen to the album closely to figure out which part is going to dominate at any given time, which ends up being a bit of a nuisance (although the dynamic unpredictability may be more of a feature than a bug).

Luminous Veil’s atmospheric command, fantastic technical control, and general direction here is best heard on the penultimate track, “The Wicker Pall.” It’s a 13-minute marathon that begins with a clean, elegiac intro, stoic strings, and an emotional undercurrent that leads into a relentlessly epic cloud of tangled black metal riffage. Through that barrage of compositional knottiness, Luminous Veil unearth glimmers of optimism, suggesting their most impressive work is yet to come.

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