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An Atmospheric Centerpiece: Leucosis’ “Saturnal”

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Metal is filled with a delightful number of redundancies, especially when it comes to subgenre names. Brutal death metal. Epic power metal. Atmospheric black metal. Double-plus good pedantry.

Ignoring the faux-Orwellianism, it’s that last term that strikes me as especially funny. All music, black metal or not, is atmospheric: it’s just a matter of what the atmosphere is made of. Even if some music evokes the atmosphere of watching corpse-paint dry (i.e. 90% of the black metal in my inbox), it’s still doing what it says on the tin. So, what are we actually saying when we say that a black metal band like Leucosis is atmospheric?

Surely not that they drench their songs in reverb or stack on layer after layer of synthetic orchestras. Their atmosphere isn’t textural. It’s compositional. More importantly, the atmosphere that this California-based band evoke on Liminal isn’t like the wintry fjords of Norway, or a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape. Instead, “Saturnal,” the album’s centerpiece, is a billowing cloud of dust that leaves life choked in its wake.

The most fascinating moment on “Saturnal” (and I swear… this is a compliment) is the moment that it ends. In its final milliseconds, the song shrinks back to the size of daily life. You are no longer fighting to keep dirt from filling your mouth, shielding your eyes from the persistent sting of dead soil. Instead, you are listening to a no-frills recording of a band whose snare drum sounds like the opening of a Tic Tac container.

This almost cartoonish “power-down” sound at the end of the song is so far outside of the atmosphere of “Saturnal” that it calls attention to how well-defined the atmosphere is in the first place. Leucosis designs riff cycles within riff cycles, plunging the listener so deep into the core of the song that the outside world becomes impossible to imagine. Then, after what seems like an eternity, the storm finally passes.

Liminal is out on September 1st via Sentient Ruin.

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