Post-black metal continues to develop nicely. As bands explore alternative soundscapes to augment and intensify the atmospherics of traditional black metal — creating a beast unto itself — we get progressive takes on core drama. Stretching for climaxes, always reaching higher for higher points, this is a subgenre of maximization. There's fault there, though: when you crank everything, all is equalized. Some albums can transcend this problem, going abstract but retaining sufficient structure, variation, and dynamics. One such example is the upcoming sophomore LP, The Circle, from a German band named Heretoir. Stream its seventh (and strongest) track below, "Exhale".

"Exhale" can draw lines all the way to the straightforwardness of Ghost Bath's Moonlover and the nebulous soundscapes of Set and Setting's latest LP, Reflectionless. This is the kind of bipolar post-black metal unafraid to dabble in synth-heavy, upbeat progressions and clean-sung vocals that offset moments of more traditional, distorted power. With that, though, the goal is to avoid corniness, bedfellow to keyboard over-usage and super catchy, interpolating melodies. Bands must parse the subgenre, reinforcing the essentials easily mucked-up by other bands, like singing decently and avoiding redundancy.

"Exhale" captures this, and as such is The Circle's quintessential track. With its balladic intro and implosive denouement, it characterizes the intense, dynamic flow necessary for legit post-black metal. The post-processed vocals are a nifty touch. Steering away from c-o-n-t-i-n-u-o-u-s blast beats, this track capitalizes on dramatically postmodern soundscapes, themselves courtesy of vocal belting and heavily layered guitars. It feels longer than it really is (5:33) and covers a lot of ground between quiet rumination and oranges-hoisting invigoration. When the album drops, you'll be able to hear the magnificent transition between "Exhale" and "Eclipse", which paired are The Circle's spinal cord.

A tactile drumming performance draws listeners out of layered auras on The Circle; standouts include delicate cue-ins to riffs, aforementioned exercised blastbeat restraint, and hard-cut production value. Meanwhile, spacey vocals lend a human softness to the guitarwork, especially during The Circle's moments of retreat. At opportune points, they sharpen into core-style screams, dynamic enough to avoid triteness. Bands in this genre tend to get floppy or tinny, Heretoir avoids this with constant, high-energy voltage. Interludes are not overlong, and tracks, like this one, gleefully stir themselves into blastbeat frenzies. This is to say that The Circle shifts and scoots rapidly. There's always an upcoming hairpin, something to be excited for.

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The Circle launches March 24 via Northern Silence Productions. Pre-order the album here. Follow Heretoir on Facebook.

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