I didn’t know there was a black metal scene in Syria until I heard of Blackspell. I’m still not entirely sure there’s strictly a scene, because Blackspell is the project of one man, the mysterious “Demon of Darkness”, who has also been responsible for about seven other bands in which he was either the only or at least the main member. But at any rate there is at least one diehard black metal musician in Damascus, and he is an extremely busy and dedicated individual. I’ve always admired that kind of determination, and I was keen to hear what Blackspell had managed to come up with in what I can only imagine to be less than ideal circumstances.


That said, With Seasons To Wither is a strange album, and challenging to describe. While it’s firmly in the melodic/symphonic black metal bracket, it lacks the epic sense of scale common to the genre and indeed feels almost like it’s being performed in miniature, with a sparse production, keyboards that evoke the infamous “Casio” sound, and an underpowered, though surprisingly clear, guitar. It’s also only thirty minutes long. If you could shrink a band like, say, Emperor or Limbonic Art down until you could tuck them into a wind-up music box, the result might sound a bit like this.


And yet I can’t help but like it. The vocals – ranging from semi-clean to a rasping, froggy croak – are uniformly short on power, but do have the virtue of being more decipherable than many you’ll hear in the genre. The songwriting comes across as the work of a man who is almost certainly self-taught, because it doesn’t always conform to convention or expectation: riffs may be any length with no apparent reference to the drums, repeat random numbers of times, or intersect in counter-intuitive ways with the keyboard leads. Occasional drops out of time or tune add to the bedroom-black-metal effect and yet despite all these idiosyncrasies, this pocket-sized work of art still stands up for itself through its sheer sincerity and raw-edged charisma. Those keyboards may sound like something Mortiis upgraded from at the age of fifteen but the melodies being played on them are charmingly engaging, and some of the off-kilter riffs are unexpectedly memorable. I’m especially fond of “Episode: Death” with its catchy opening, and the atmospheric, eight-minute “Witches’ Hill” which is about as epic as Blackspell get.


In summary, this album definitely needs to be heard with a sympathetic ear to get the most out of it, and if you’re looking for something to effortlessly blow you away you won’t find it here. But if you like your black metal authentically underground as opposed to merely playing at it, With Seasons To Wither is a treasure in obscurity. [7/10 – KIT RATHENAR]