That the Pacific Northwest of the USA has emerged as a hotbed of avant-garde black metal shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. With its artistically vibrant affluent urban communities set against a backdrop of gloomy forests, towering mountains and relentless rain, the similarities to the windswept landscapes that inspired the second-wave of black metal bands in Norway are surely no coincidence. Taurus, an all-female two-piece from Portland, Oregon join Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch as the region’s premier exponents of dour, gloom-laden atmospheric metal with the release of their debut album, ‘Life’.
Sounding like the very stuff of nightmares, “Life” is a singular body of work running to just under 33 minutes, split over two tracks. At its core is an unholy union between black metal and drone, with an experimental, psychedelic edge that draws in unsettling, off-kilter tempos, howling walls of ambient feedback and stuttering voice over samples to create a torturous sonic collage. Stevie Floyd‘s discordant guitar work and inhuman, blood curdling screams create a persistent sense of unease that Ashley Spungin’s erratic drum patterns only manage to deepen
Immediate comparisons are difficult to draw. Life bears a passing resemblance to the more abstract elements of the first two releases in Blut Aus Nord’s ‘777’ trilogy of albums, albeit with considerably less structure, leaving traditional notions of rhythm and melody far behind. There’s something of Gallhammer there too in the vocal delivery but Taurus are by far the more musically accomplished of the two.
Wolves in the Throne Room are another touchstone but only in the way that the two bands use ambiance and atonality to create an atmosphere of perpetual dread. WITTR, for all their rejection of modern studio techniques and established metal paradigms, remain a song-driven band in a way that’s difficult to reconcile with the formless, ephemeral nature of Taurus’s work.
“Life” is a taxing, challenging record that demands the fastidious attention of the listener if its subtleties are to be unlocked. Counter-intuitively, its austere soundscapes are beguilingly simple while at the same time individual movements are fiendishly complex. From a critical perspective, it’s difficult to know how to approach the album; as a piece of work, it’s clearly more than the sum of its raw musical components but tackling it as a piece of conceptual, existential sonic art runs the risk of losing sight of the fundamental question here; what’s it like to listen to?
Ultimately, I found “Life” an unrelentingly bleak yet completely absorbing journey, full of raw potential that suggests that Taurus could one day produce a work with the cold majesty of Agalloch’s ‘Ashes Against The Grain’ or Wolves in the Throne Room’s ‘Celestial Lineage’. Your mileage may vary.