With The Onlooker (Season of Mist Underground Activists) Ukraine’s Windswept has issued an open invitation to any and all Black Metal releases this year to challenge them for the throne. And maybe time will prove my assessment to be wrong, but several listens into The Onlooker its hard to imagine another Black Metal release as sonically satisfying as this anytime soon.
First and foremost, the greatest strength here is the rock-solid mix and production. Every drum beat lands with weight and each guitar part has crunch and satisfying tone. And if my preference for a cleaner sound disqualifies my opinion on Black Metal so be it. I for one don’t need any other extreme metal releases to sound like they were recorded in a greasy dumpster with a raccoon serving as sound engineer. I would’ve never imagined that a song called ‘Disgusting Breed of Hagglers’ would have me reaching for my good set of headphones within seconds. Amazing song title aside, there is true power and breadth in the flowing waves of tremolo riffage and ongoing roll of blasts and double kicks.
This commitment to scope and ambition also carries through on the instrumental stormer ‘Gustav Meyrink’s Prague.’ With no scathing vocals to contend with, the lion’s share of attention goes to drummer and possible metahuman Vladislav Petrov who puts on a rhythm clinic for the better part of five minutes. While the guitars and drums are the focus of The Onlooker that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the ferocious howls of guitarist and front man Roman Sayenko (Drudkh) who seems to be channeling demonic possession and a severe black coffee habit on ‘Insomnia of the Old Men’ and ‘Stargazer.’
With The Onlooker, Windswept is issuing a challenge to not just their Black Metal peers, but to heavy music as a whole. It’s time to go big or go home.
8 / 10