Considering the myriad ways that Neurosis have expanded the palette of heavy metal, it’s a bummer that so many of their post-metal followers have reduced their innovations to stylistic quirks. Slather a hazy guitar soup over pitter-patter tom drums, follow it with a Richter-activating riff, make sure to rupture larynx while screaming over it, and presto-blammo, there you have it. Nope, that’s not how it works. If you’ve ever listened to Scott Kelly or Steve von Till’s solo records, you know that Neurosis’s fathomless cred is fully transferable to acoustic instruments, that it emanates from a soulfulness buried way below the stack amps, boarded deep in the walls, behind the electrical sockets.
Black Math Horseman get that. While you’ll find plenty of ritual doom crush on the L.A. quartet’s debut album Wyllt, BMH know that heavy comes from within. Much of Wyllt swirls in the middle ground between lullaby and nightmare, etching its blurry edges in the smoke and fog. Some of its heaviest parts actually come in between depressions of the distortion pedal. The repetitive guitar fragments that open “Tyrant” lure us in to the dank cave where Sasha Popovic’s drumsticks drip on to dead animal skins, and den mother Sera Timms chants monastic spells. Even before the first eruption of crash cymbal and guitar squall, the song is pregnant with voodoo.
Ian Barry and Bryan Tulao’s treated guitars work black magic of their own. Less Cult of Luna and more doom-metal Black Mountain, the drugged-out guitar shmears in “Deerslayer” and “Torment of the Metals” aren’t just pretty — they evince a nasty strain of psychedelic paranoia. Enhancing that narcotic-’70s vibe is Timms’ shaman wail. It’s filtered and indistinct, like the ghostly wisps of Brightblack Morning Light on an awful trip. The unintelligible lyrics themselves matter less than the way her voice dissolves into Black Math Horseman’s dark puffs. She’s the distant soul that whispers through this music, the dead girl at the bottom of the well.
Producer Scott Reeder captures the desert fumes that he knows so well from his days in Kyuss. Wyllt’s not all formlessness and ether though. Black Math Horseman work hard to maintain their corner of the underworld, layering grimy psych-rock husks atop Popovic’s limber pounding on “Origin of Savagery,” slamming home when it’s prudent. They fully earn the 11 minutes of the album’s final benediction “Bird of All Faiths and None/ Bell from Madrone” by letting their outwardly and inwardly terrifying impulses coalesce. Black Math Horseman inspire belief in the boogeyman again. Post-metal’s Sturm und Drang? Not really. More like Holy und Crap.