Vials of Wrath - Seeking Refuge
Genre: Atmospheric black metal
Lineup: Dempsey "DC" Mills (all vocals and instruments)
A solitary man wanders through the woods in contemplation of the fundamental questions of life. His beard is stiff with frost and the ground beneath him is cold and damp. The trees around him seem to bend their gnarled branches toward him, as if attempting to grasp him and to detain his journey. Still, he presses on. The rising sun flickers through the tree canopy and slowly melts away the thick fog that swirls around the ankles of this weary man seeking refuge. He looks up at the sky through the veil of branches, wondering if God will hear his pleas. He raises his hands. The words that he utters are both supplication and praise. Deep within the forest, he realizes that he is not alone.
I think that this imagery and tone does a fairly good job of capturing Vial of Wrath’s debut album, Seeking Refuge. This one-man band is the creation of Dempsey “DC” Mills, who self-produced the album in his own studio (and had it mastered in The Sound Lair). Ultimately, it’s an atmospheric black metal journey garnering inspiration from the likes of Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Ancient Plague. There’s a dark, sinister vibe running throughout Seeking Refuge, and this serves to make the album more memorable and intriguing.
Mills’ vocals are black metal shrieks full of energy and passion. They convey heartfelt lyrics that contain a poetic sensibility. Lines such as “I am a grain of sand / Swept with tides of unknown shores” and “Beneath infinite stars I ponder the eternal / And know I’m never truly alone” serve to give the album an almost philosophical outlook. In the end, however, the lone man wandering in the wilderness gives praise to the Lord God his Creator. The guitars on the album are proficient, but they go above and beyond during atmospheric sections. The acoustic is executed superbly, mixing dark, imposing sections with a few lighter, upbeat passages. I felt that the percussion section could have been improved upon, as it more or less serves only as a conduit to maintain time and direction, but this is a one-man project and overall everything fits together extremely well.
Seeking Refuge begins with “A Greater Calling,” a track that builds through a dense, captivating layer of ambiance into a calculated black metal onslaught. The build-up at the beginning is phenomenal, as it slowly adds additional instruments and crescendos. This is one thing that the album does extremely well—dynamic contrast is used to great effect. “To Walk Upon the Heights” is a monolith switching between sonic assaults and quiet, breathtaking melodic passages. Seeking Refuge momentarily changes pace as the instrumental “Contemplating Creation” fades in to the sound of acoustic guitars. The tone of the song is uplifting, and provides a welcomed contrast to some of the darker material on the album. A bit later, the song “In Sackcloth and Ashes” brings the listener the sounds of a croaking raven. With this instrumental, it’s easy to imagine a man mourning in the traditional Jewish custom that the name of the song alludes to. Seeking Refuge closes with “Alone in the Wilderness,” a lengthy track that brings everything together. It’s atmospheric and dense; light and heavy; piercing and soothing.
Seeking Refuge is an album that flows from one song to the next quite smoothly. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for Vials of Wrath. Thematically, it sticks together, and the atmosphere that is created on many of the songs is quite good. On the whole, it’s a remarkably fluid debut album, and I suggest that you give it a listen. Any fan of black metal will find material to enjoy on Vials of Wrath’s Seeking Refuge.
Overall rating: 7.3 out of 10.0 (Excellent)
Musicianship: 7.0 out of 10.0
Song structure: 7.5 out of 10.0
Album structure: 7.5 out of 10.0
How did I come up with my rating? I rate the following categories: musicianship, song structure, and album structure. I then take an average of these three scores and come up with an overall rating.
1.0-2.9 (Poor: musicianship is poor, song structures are haphazard, no directional flow)
3.0-4.9 (Good: musicianship is sloppy, song structures are undeveloped, flow is hampered)
5.0-6.9 (Average: musicianship is adequate, song structures are good, flow works most of the time)
7.0-8.9 (Excellent: musicianship is very good, song structures are thought out, songs connect well)
9.0-9.9 (Superior: musicianship is superb, song structures are varied, flow is almost flawless)
Note: Ratings may be given in increments of 0.1 for a final score (rounded up) and 0.5 for individual category scores. I will never give a rating of 10.0 because I do not believe that any one album can be "perfect," and the ratings at either end of the spectrum will be very few.
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