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South Dakota black metal? Woman is the Earth

Woman Is the Earth is the only metal band I know from South Dakota. Hell, it’s the only band I know from South Dakota, period. I’m sure there are others, but the talent of these guys can carry the whole state. I’ve been trying and failing to acquire their previous release, “Depths,” for the last couple of years, so I’ll take it as a blessing that they’ve released this one to occupy me instead.

This threesome from the Black Hills plays some pretty spectacular black metal. Or to be specific, it falls into the post-black metal category, as it’s not the most traditional. It makes superb use of atmospheric elements, and has a Cascadian vibe much of the time. I’m not sure if it’s the production, the playing style, or some combination thereof, but the guitars have a soft, shimmery, hazy quality about them that makes this material stand out from most of the black metal pack. That is not to say that there is a lack of aggression here, as the harsh vocals handle that admirably enough, and certainly that defining hallmark of black metal — speed — is present. But this album often finds success more in its introspective qualities.

Perhaps for that reason, it can also be deceptive. I really questioned whether it would rise up to be one of the best releases of the year, as it occasionally walks the line of aimlessness. And just as you might be about to get restless or question the journey, it will unleash such total grandeur that it sweeps away the momentary doubt in a tide of sheer genius. “Broken Hands” is probably the best example. It is immediately engaging, delivering guitar chords that positively purr with that hazy shimmer, but by the midpoint it has settled into almost a doom trudge, laden with atmosphere but arguably lingering in those moments a bit too long before finding its way to an echoey acoustic package. Yet immediately on its tail, “Sorrow and the Floods” is nothing short of masterful. It starts by making great use of a haunting keyboard backdrop, then riding a lush guitar melody that gives way to a different, lovely, and longing melody. That then segues into hypnotic tremolo picking which is subsumed by a blast of speed as it shifts into pure obsidian metallic madness, and becomes very Panopticon-like. More and more melodies and time shifts follow in a dizzying array, until the climax is reached in the form of piercing guitar melodies flung outward, shooting fiercely into the night against mercilessly tight rhythmic blasts. It’s like earth tremors and lightning strikes occurring in tandem, and leaves you spent and shocked, but exhilarated. What a monumental song.

Not to be outdone, the title track streams forth with blackened violence, the downshifting chords magical in their progression, and then suddenly the song completely stops for a moment, the only sound a ghostly and ethereal keyboard note hanging in mid air. Brilliant. As the track progresses through to its final moments, I again hear a lot of Panopticon. Closer “Lungcrusher” opts for a different tactic, awash in a sort of ambient doom, though still utilizing drums and a persistent, glimmering guitar melody in the background.

“Torch of Our Final Night” is far less about individual songs than about the big picture. Noting which track or song you’re on is at best distracting, and at worst futile, as the tapestry matters more than the threads. And as that cohesive whole, it is highly successful. Woman Is the Earth is mining something in those Black Hills, but it ain’t gold, it’s a different kind of metal — inspired, artistic, and captivating.

 

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