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Sound Advice: Upon the Onyx Throne, by Sylvus

A blizzard of raw, folk-tinged black metal that is perfect for the bleakest days of winter.

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The association between winter and black metal, between a frozen, buzzing guitar tone and the bleak, blizzard-whipped landscapes the sound evokes, is employed so frequently, it has almost become cliché. Every once in a while, however, a band emerges that recaptures some of the essence of that frost-bitten spirit and makes it seems fresh again, as Toronto-based black metal project Sylvus has done on Upon The Onyx Throne. The band first emerged with a self-titled debut in 2010, but it was with its 2011 release, The Beating of Black Wings, in April of 2011 that it first fully captured the power of its bleak, folk-tinged sound. Now, with its second full-length, Upon The Onyx Throne, the group has further refined its raw, raging agony.

Drawing clear parallels with pagan black metal bands like Windir and Wodensthrone, Sylvus employs subtle touches of folk influence—in the plaintiveness of the song structures, for example, and the yearning in the guitar tone. Album opener “Timeless, Lightless” has a clawing loneliness to it that calls to mind vast, hungry stretches of untouched forest. There is an eerie, almost mystical quality to the record that all deep, unexplored places share: whether it be deep in a winter wood or at the bottom of the ocean, there’s a sense of something unknowably powerful lurking beneath the surface.

Sylvus has always had exceptionally strong percussion, and on Upon The Onyx Throne, the drumming is even more clamorous and wild than in the past. The rhythm section often charges forward like a thing unhinged, a runaway cart in danger of falling apart. It is the guitar that is unquestionably the star of the record, though, creating circling structures evocative of carrion birds on “Ravens Cleaning Bones,” and throbbing, writhing alchemy on the title track. The tone is solid and muscular or brittle and fractured as each song demands, but it’s the emotional intensity of the playing that makes it exceptional. There is an absolute commitment to the record’s narrative, to its wretchedness and longing and ultimate, dark triumph, that is completely absorbing.

Winter can be perceived as a time of cheer and merriment, and of peace and dormancy; it can also be a hungry, howling season that steals and freezes. There is something both magical and apocalyptic about the time of snow and ice. Sylvus knows intimately the harsher, hissing qualities of winter, and the colossal strength that must be demanded to endure Mother Nature’s crueler aspects—and the group has distilled and captured this knowledge exquisitely on Upon The Onyx Throne.

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