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Splits are always fun, but whether they make it into the "essential listening" column for any of the participants depends on more than the caliber of their own contributions -- as a whole, it's less common for a split to exceed the sum of its parts. This Vuur & Zijde + Impavida split, however, possesses a rare coherency that shapes it into an exhibition of two immensely potent bands with a life of its own to boot. It creates a striking contrast between two timbres of atmospheric black metal -- dreamlike and depressive -- but with an emotional and musical continuity that even most full-lengths fall short of reaching.

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Vuur & Zijde opens with two striking elements: sung vocals cloaked in cathedral-like reverberation and a somnambulantly tidal onrush of instrumentation. Blast beats and tremolo progressions, key tools of black metal, are fused into a wrought-iron core that scaffolds the atmospherics that interweave. The result seems calm and almost mellow, if you let your focus drift away from the intricate and demanding riffing underneath. The clouded haze surrounding Vuur & Zijde's three tracks threatens to overtake the music almost entirely at points -- like a current bearing you down a stream, resistance can only do so much, and eventually you're ripped from any tenuous handholds on reality and borne away.

As their half closes with "Noordzee," the dream grows in strength and takes on an ominous sheen -- you awaken, or drop into a greater nightmare, on Impavida's frightening shores.

Although the two bands share a root genre, Impavida delights in the unsettlingly surreal rather than the otherworldly mystics. I'm not sure that I've ever been as creeped out by an instrumental than I was by the end of "Gram," which calls to mind porcelain dolls coming alive in your hands, or perhaps haunted music boxes. Skin-crawling stuff; obfuscating, detuned soundscapes joining with insane shrieks and howls.

Impavida remains a shadowy, depressive force on this split that proves the perfect counterpoint to the first half's celestial majesty. Whatever splendor there was disappears under the band's gaze, replaced by turbulent anxiety and grief -- that would be a bad thing in a lot of cases, but in black metal, all these things make for excellent emotional catalysts. How the transition of reverence to nihilism is handled sets this split apart -- it's not a stop/start where one sub-sub-genre ends and another begins, but instead a carefully-forged cutover where both bands' usage of heavy, layered sound eases the listener past the halfway point.

Once they're past that, the hypnotic disquiet of Impavida weaves its spell and the now-distant memories of nature and light are just fleeting recollections.

This split has haunted me for a while, and I only got to listening to it just recently. The album art has lingered in my head, taunting me to try and remember where I saw it. The names of those involved, hard to pin down for my English-centric brain, have popped up here and there in my voyages across the Internet. Finally, things came together, I listened to it, and here we are -- this is a split worth your time because it delivers a story with a high-quality blend of two distinct sounds.

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The Vuur & Zijde + Impavida split released today via Prophecy Productions.

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