Monday, December 4, 2023

Full Length Review: Upon Shadows "Poetica" (Ground Media Group) by Dave Wolff

Band; Upon Shadows
Location: Montevideo
Country: Uruguay
Genre: Dark metal
Full length: Poetica
Format: CD, Digipak CD, digital
Label: Ground Media Group
Release date: October 18, 2023
With “Poetica”, Uruguayan band Upon Shadows showcases the black flowers they planted blossoming ever wider with all their dramatic charm and seduction, edging their music ever closer into the realm of art.
Several reviewers who wrote for Asphyxium were profoundly moved by Upon Shadows’ dark magic in some way. In example, Daniel Ryan’s review of “Modern Obscurantism”, points out that people achieve self-mastery by looking deeply within and finding where the lines between disobedience and virtue fade and eventually disappear altogether. Finding the place where you become your own master is what I picked up from his writing about the band. At least, that’s how I personally relate to it.
Upon Shadows’ core members, Tamara Picardo and Natalia Arocena, have grown closer as musicians and vocalists through working and interacting with each other more deeply. Listening to their innermost voices, discovering how they relate to one another, they are becoming a more cohesive unit. As a result they’re greatly improving their ability to entice you into their world. A world where there is still beauty in the darkest depths of the mind that seem the most desolate.
Since I haven't listened to their older work in some time, I decided to give “7 Stages of Grief” and a couple other albums another listen to see how far they’ve come. Compared to black or gothic metal, “7 Stages” has more in common with experimental ambient/classical music. But this along with “Between the Southern Cross & the Northern Star” and “Modern Obscurantism” demonstrated Picardo and Arocena's willingness to take chances rather than rehashing the same formula.
Having heard those albums again, I'm struck by how elaborate “Poetica” is in terms of musical and vocal arrangements, songwriting and melody, and production, and how actively involved they are in bringing their ideas to life. Bringing new dimensions to their starless nocturnal craft is an extended process of numerous years, not something abruptly sprung into between releases. As a result they lay it out that remaining lightless and solemn is not a limitation if one can elaborate on it.
As I first listened, I noticed a greater emphasis on guitars complementing keyboards and vice versa, building a multilayered song structure. The lone piano begins the album with overlapping keyboard sounds, followed by guitars before moving into the first song “Written in Blood” that demonstrates the shades of expression characteristic of this recording. As the lyrics are becoming more illustrative of the stories they tell, the songs become more like acts in a stage production or a living novel.
These lyrics personify the balance between disobedience and virtue, illumination and shadowiness, life and death, through tales of implementing impermissible witchery, exploring nature’s cycle when all is cold and barren, and the primordial serpent from which all diablerie originates. In essence this creates a balance between black metal imagery and traditional witchcraft, besides one between perdition and enlightenment. To embrace it all is to reach virtue through disobedience to religious doctrine.
Did I mention how the musicianship enhances these perceptions of light and dark in a way that the band had not yet come close to? The dual melodic and raspy vocals also help contribute to the coexistence of desolation and beauty. There is a line in the song “Chants of the Serpent” that drives home this dualistic contrast: “farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear”. In some ways, it’s the summation of the statement made by the entire album. In the end, the journey taken leads to enlightenment.
Do yourself a favor and take a moment to read what other writers have said about Upon Shadows. And if you have time, listen to a track or two from their past releases when taking a look at their latest. –Dave Wolff

Natalia Arocena: Bass
Tamara Picardo: Keyboards, guitars, vocals

Track list:
1. Written in Blood
2. Song Of Winter
3. Cárceles
4. Chants of the Serpent
5. Monolith
6. Terra Avstralis Ignota
7. The agony of Eros
8. Ashes

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