On Bastard Sapling’s Instinct is Forever, the black metal mood is properly set with ethereal choirs interrupted by the screeching of a terrified woman. Then first song, “My Spine Will Be My Noose,” begins with fast tremolo-picking that doesn’t sound like Immortal so much as it sounds like a typical black metal riff. The drums keep right up. The guitars conjure a pestilence of swarming riffs that whirl around the listener. The vocals are fiery-throated, yet well-enunciated declarations of self-loathing. It’s black metal as we’ve come to know it, but given its dynamic nature, and its clear and professional production, the sound is more Lawless Darkness than De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or even At the Heart of Winter. And that’s fine. I, too, am an American millennial. I understand what must be done to keep today’s audiences interested.

But let’s say something about that first track’s lyrical theme. Is it actually cool to write an anthemic song glorifying suicide? It seems like every other week another musician, especially within the black metal realm, takes their own life. And for all our “Rest In Chaos”es, this phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down. Again, I get it. Black metal should be offensive. Doesn’t matter “what’s cool.” But there’s a difference between being offensive and being gauche, which is how the French say 'gross,' which is how we Americans say: “This makes me uncomfortable, without necessarily challenging me to think differently about my convictions.” Additionally, a refrain of “I’ll end my life” that becomes “I’ll end my fucking life!” before leading into a sick solo is not black metal, but good ol’ American metalcore. At best, it’s Kvelertakian black ’n’ roll.

The following eight songs are similar enough to the first track that they don’t really warrant any mention, except to say that they’re better -- even objectively. The riffs are more interesting and the compositions more artful, leaving the listener to realize that the first track is an intentional banger of an opener and, thus, deepens the already profound ambivalence I feel toward its theme.

So the highlight of this record for me is the (mostly) instrumental track, “Elder.” It’s most obvious during this track that most of Bastard Sapling’s members are/were in Inter Arma. While much of Instinct is Forever seems written with an audience in mind, “Elder” is one of the few tracks that doesn’t pander. It’s long enough to be unapologetic and brief enough to be effective. Upon my initial listen of Instinct, I found myself drifting on sad thoughts during “Elder.” It’s an evocative song that might reveal more about the listener than it does the artist.

“Lantern at the End of Time” is another anomalous track that everyone’s talking about because it features guest vocals from Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell. The opening riff is reminiscent of Hammerheart-era Bathory, and the transitions in and out of the sections that feature Cottrell are proof that BS is comprised of competent metal musicians. It’s one of the better tracks on the record, but when the harsh vocals come back in, I’m reminded that this is a black metal record by an American band, and suddenly I’m very bored and the whole affair seems tiring and disingenuous.

Instinct is Forever is a record that my obtuse side wants to write off as false and mainstream, and my analytical side struggles to objectively delineate why it agrees with my obtuse half. My obtuse side wants to call Instinct is Forever a stateside Dusk... and Her Embrace, while my analytical side wants to compare this effort to bands from the early- to mid-2000s who were taking Swedish melodeath riffs and Americanizing them with “5 Minutes Alone” breakdowns and hardcore vocals. But there’s this voiceless part of me that finds himself lost in the music and the sublime riffs, of which this record has plenty. If only it had been released on cassette and buried beneath feedback and tape hiss.

— Dutch Pearce