Seattle’s BlackQueen have, in all official communication, always described their music as Witch Metal, a sonic amalgamation of Black Metal, Death Metal, Hardcore, post-Metal, and everything possible in between. This stylistic mash-up is housed within a cocoon of horror soundtrack-esque atmosphere and spiritually and thematically based around whatever founding member Pete Jay happens to be delving into at the time of writing. With their new album, The Destructive Cycle (Roman Numeral Records), they look deeply into the Taoist five element theory and how it relates to the human condition, from creation to destruction and ultimate rebirth. Sounds a bit heavy, I know, but the music offsets the deep concept with kickass riffs and general headbangery.
Besides the instrumental first track, each of the following five songs represents a specific element (wood, earth, water, fire, and metal) that takes the listener through a labyrinth of sound and imagery. Jay has trained with two Taoist masters over the past ten years, learning the internal martial arts of Wudang Sword and Xing Yi Quan which must have had an exponential effect on his songwriting and musical focus, as the music has an almost trance-like discipline. The ritualistic growls, cavernous atmosphere, fearsome landscapes, and eerie synths and samples are testament to this.
The vocals tend to follow a black metal aesthetic for the most part, a harsh rasp that bites and brings the aggression to the fore, and a willing participant in the chaos evoked by the heavily distorted and swirling guitar riffage. That said, the guitars can twist from the thrashy tightness to delicate and ethereal acoustic bliss at the drop of a hat, and it is this dichotomy that really showcases the schizophrenic, avant-garde sound that is BlackQueen. The rhythm section is as solid as oak with just enough flash to highlight the discordant melodies and not overwhelm them. Clearly, the band are well-practiced and totally in sync with one another, because the tightness throughout the record is remarkable and keeps the just-might-fall-off-the-rails music intact.
The fresh fruit juice added to this cacophonous fruit salad is guest vocals from Paul Pavlovich of Assück fame on ‘Infinitesimal’, ‘Needle Grinding Well’, and ‘Calefactorum Occulta’, as well as the tortured vocal styling of Jef ‘Wrest’ Whitehead from Leviathan, Twilight, and Lurker Of Chalice on ‘The Sorcerer’s Jian’ (who also designed the explosive and colorful artwork that adorns the album).
All these musical, stylistic, and thematic elements add up to a power-packed concoction that defies convention on many levels, but that flows like spring water through the ears and leaves the listener breathless, refreshed, and fulfilled. In an era where many bands find a genre and sit safely within its confines, happy to play by the rules, it’s so satisfying to find musicians that are willing to hone and focus their craft and treat it with the respect it deserves. BlackQueen have climbed to the next level with The Destructive Cycle, a record that will both amaze and excite. Oh, and kick-ass, without a doubt.
8 / 10