The natural world has been an influence on a plethora of black metal bands for decades, especially those of the atmospheric and depressive variety. This is where the UK-based And Now The Owls Are Smiling comes in, with project mastermind Nre’s North Norfolk origins being the catalyst for such a musical manner. He released The Comforting Grip of Misery via Clobber Records on November 1st, so how does it fair?
The dark patter of rain and clap of a storm opens up the record in “Our Forest Calls Me Home,” which trail behind an instantly melancholic guitar passage – the tone is set. Here is where one can realise And Now The Owls Are Smiling stands out quite well from a lot of bands in the same vein as his. Instead of the expected screams, we are initially met with hauntingly clean melodic vocals, akin to the likes of Insomnium. This, paired with the following anguish-ridden wails, makes for a striking contrast and enhances the impact of the music tenfold.
Instrumentally, we hear Nre follow the likes of Exiled From Light, Xasthur, and Thy Light to name but a few. And Now The Owls Are Smiling is predominantly atmospheric, but has heavy DSBM undertones which can (in some cases) impact such a record, however, it’s quite the opposite here. The Comforting Grip Of Misery ultimately explores just that, as it impressively balances the darker and lighter sides of humanity – misery, and the beauty within it.
Within each track, there is a level of such a balance. “Winters Elegy” – sung by guest vocalist Linds Bestwicke – is a chilling track about how “the winter is coming to kill,” with a gust of wind accompanying her standalone vocals. “The Hollowness of Existence” also presents this self-exploration in the first line and instrumental verse alone – “I am so fucking lonely,” followed by gorgeous and vast guitar work. Nre’s wails here feel like but a whisper before all other audio cuts out, bar the simplistic drums and three guitar notes, which mimic the feeling of emptiness and loneliness. It’s moments like these, and the floaty, Alcest-style chanting behind Nre’s piercing vocals later in the same track which makes his musicianship and innovation really stand out.
Well, The Comforting Grip Of Misery sounds pretty awesome!
From 2018’s record, Desolation, Nre’s development as a musician is clear. The title track, “The Comforting Grip Of Misery” presents a level of emotion and layering which is easy to connect with and entrancing. Nre is clearly a talented vocalist who understands the nature of the subgenre and has a real grip on the content explored. The track’s nods to early Nocturnal Depression and the like are quite apparent in the intro, and is significantly more aggressive in terms of depressive tones compared to the rest of the record. There is a viciousness in Nre’s vocals which seem to come from a pure outburst of emotion; a necessity in such an emotional subgenre.
While each track certainly has its own atmosphere and level of emotion, the introductions can drag somewhat. This is heard in “An Empyreal Spirit Dances Before Me,” for example, which doesn’t do all that much. Additionally, the ‘stops’ are quite abrupt in places and can dampen the pace/impact of tracks, aside from “In The Hollowness Of Existence” where it works excellently. When the tracks do begin, however, they are impactful, immersive, and gripping.
The Comforting Grip of Misery is dark, poignant, yet also in the context of atmospheric black metal/DSBM, beautiful. The atmospheres created throughout the record are compelling and are even more impressive when one considers the record is entirely from one person (minus the two guest appearances). With this record, we can see Nre has gone from strength to strength since joining Clobber Records, and one can only hope this trajectory persists. As records of this ilk go, The Comforting Grip Of Misery is a definite for your collection.
The Comforting Grip of Misery Track Listing:
01. Our Forest Calls Me Home
02. An Indictment
03. The Comforting Grip Of Misery
04. Winters Elegy
05. An Empyreal Spirit Dances Before Me
06. The Hollowness Of Existence
Run Time: 44:52
Release Date: November 1, 2019
Record Label: Clobber Records