Featuring several current and former members of apocalyptic sludge nasties Inter Arma, Richmond, Virginia black metal quartet Bastard Sapling has had a fight on their hands since day one to prove that they aren’t just another side project. Bastard Sapling‘s 2012 debut album “Dragged From Our Restless Trance” emphatically stated that this wasn’t the case, winning plaudits from many underground voices and two years later sees the quintet ready for round two with sophomore effort “Instinct is Forever.”
A blood-chilling scream heralds the beginning of opening track ‘My Spine Will Be My Noose’ as the band begin blasting away as if their black hearts depended on it. The emphasis is firmly on aggression over atmosphere as the track roils in demonic rage, evoking the most bloody-minded of the Scandinavian second wave. However, a few creeping melodies ensure that this record will be no one trick pony and when the grim triumph of the chorus rears its many-horned head, it’s obvious that Bastard Sapling have much to show us.
An appreciation for the modern abysmal outpourings of the US black metal scene is evident in the swirling darkness and thunderous rhythm of ‘Subterranean Rivers of Blood’ which just doesn’t let up in terms of frantic pace and wild-eyed menace. But just when it seems that going for the throat is the modus operandi here, the tortured crawl of ‘The Opal Chamber’ drags you down into the blackened depths with a more post-metal flavoured approach that no doubt has its roots in the members’ parent band. It’s still tense as hell and could slit your throat at the drop of a hat, so it’s a relief when the sorrow-filled acoustic interlude of ‘Elder’ arrives to alleviate the distress.
Another curveball is thrown out with the massive, Nachtmystium-worshipping riff of ‘The Killer in Us All’ which remains catchy yet on the verge of collapsing in a distressed heap throughout, while the feral blasting of ‘Splintering Ouroboros’ is like an unholy union between Gorgoroth and Weakling. However the real treat is the ten minute plus ‘Lantern at the End of Time’ with its deft grasp of melody, menacing swagger and haunting acoustic section featuring the beautiful guest vocals of Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell.
Now that USBM is in a state of flux with the futures of big names Wolves in the Throne Room and Nachtmystium still uncertain, the time has never been better for Bastard Sapling to step up to the plate. Aided by crystal clear production that enables every instrument to breathe, with the bass guitar of Trey Dalton ever present and pummelling throughout, the twin guitar assault as sharp as an axe, and the full-throated screech of Mike Paparo as vicious as they come, every member excels themselves on “Instinct is Forever.” The 65 minute running time being the only niggle, and a small one at that, nothing should stand in the way of Bastard Sapling rising right to the top of a grim and brooding pile. Not bad for a side project eh?