I’d heard a lot of good things about Bastard Sapling’s debut album, Dragged From Our Restless Trance, but their newest offering, Instinct is Forever, serves as my introduction to the band. And what an introduction it is! The Richmond, VA quintet displays remarkable vision and execution on this sophomore effort. Working off a base of Scandinavian-rooted black metal, their sound organically grows into something much more complex and intriguing. And with nine songs stretching over an hour and five minutes there is plenty of time to inundate the listener with both brute force and endearing subtleties.
Once opener “My Spine Will Be My Noose” gets going the ferocity of Mike Paparo’s bestial rasp hits full on. It strangles and chokes with a feral intensity and uncompromised menace befitting the ruthless assault delivered by the men behind him. The track, as does the album, mixes the distorted folk influence of Second Wave BM with the pummeling more akin to USBM. The varied tempos and slight weirdness integrate seamlessly with bleak tone.
As cold and unforgiving as they can be however, there’s almost a reluctance to acknowledging the depth of the catchiness and groove. But it is those such aspects that wrap their clawed fingers around the mind and drag it along. Giving the listener something they can really get down to while not sacrificing the hatred and misery put Bastard Sapling in the same category as say, Wolvhammer or Black Anvil. Well, perhaps not as black ‘n’ roll as Black Anvil. But it’s their ability to make you that excited to have your heart torched into blackened ash by a cold fire that makes Bastard Sapling stand tall in the exponentially growing USBM scene.
“The Opal Chamber” showcases Bastard Sapling’s way of creating densely layered soundscapes that continue to push forward with intention. Moments of un-blackness make their brief presence felt although they are quickly run over by abrasiveness. Wait, was that a post-punk melody that just got swept away?
While visceral and aggressive, the melodies coursing their way through the gaps bring an airiness and fleeting relief to the otherwise 360 degrees of oppressive darkness surrounding the general aesthetic. It’s like the album burrows deep underground, occasionally slashing through a valley yet somehow the winds of the world penetrate the catacombs sustaining life where suffocation looms.
Following the instrumental “Elder,” acoustic, forlorn and ambient as it is, comes “The Killer In Us All” which features an absolutely killer riff. It’s mid-paced, catchy as fuck and the most headbangable thing about the record. It’s spliced though to a freezer-burned menace fleeing the scene of murderous melodies. It is here that guitarists Drew Goldy and Steven Russell lock most firmly with bassist Trey Dalton to decimate and destroy.
Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell lends her sweet vocals to “Lantern at the End of Time.” Her eeriness accentuates the ghostly underpinnings and deceptively nuanced riffs. Pained melodies and an icy chill balance the propulsion and consistent cadence. Keyboards make it lush and ethereal creating a sense of movement without the heat of friction.
At over an hour it can be much to endure but although the songs often breach the 6, 7, 8-minute mark they never feel stale. Any instrumental sections only serve to showcase Goldy and Russell’s dexterity and diverse capabilities, Dalton’s underappreciated dominance of the low end and drummer Greg Ernst’s penchant for adapting to all the shifting moods and stylistic twist and turns.
Instinct is Forever is not a passive listen. Layers buried deep beneath the boiling malevolence continually find their way to the surface to haunt the mind and constrict the soul. It’s a delicate balance between corrosion, fight, flight and hope, but Bastard Sapling pull it off with meticulous care and unrepentant conviction.
It’s too difficult to fully describe the depth, complexity and writhing-ball-of-snakes atmosphere Instinct is Forever is made of. But I will say it makes me feel like a psychopath skipping down a garden path gleefully destroying every scrap of life with a big shit-eating grin on my face.