Sallow- “I: The Great Work”

Sallow- "I: The Great Work"

I’ve often asserted that black metal is a place where fearless change occurs. In much the same way that punk rock was (or perhaps still should be) about individuality and opposition to the norm, black metal has, throughout its many stages, been a genre and community driven by destruction of old ways in favor of establishing something new.  While this purpose of black metal has manifested in many ways, not always for the better of the community’s public standing, one facet that always thrills me is the genre’s drive towards its own outer reaches, both thematically and musically. When presented with an opening statement like I: The Great Work from American black metal trio Sallow, I feel as though I’m witnessing the birth of a massive push out from the ordinary. It’s not that Sallow creates something wholly new, but the impulse runs through this release all the same.

Throughout the course of I: The Great Work‘s four tracks, Sallow’s lyrics return endlessly to destruction and suffering as channels for rebirth and improvement. Rather than simply coming across as the pseudo-Satanic chest pounding so many popular black metal acts throw out as an almost obligatory offering, Sallow’s aim feels sincere, pairing sparse yet creative phrasing with a musical backdrop that is equally rooted in traditional form and a more modern expansion. Clear mastering from sonic heavyweight James Plotkin brings out the crispness in Sallow’s sound without polishing over the coldness that seeps out from every line. Songs like “Naked in Moonlit Bliss, Drunk on Fire” and closing track (and my personal favorite) “Der Winter Kalt” come across as anthems of violent triumph rather than the pure rage their lyrics might imply. If it seems I’m repeating myself here, it’s because this theme is not just conceptual. Rebirth and growth out of destruction is the very “great work” to which this demo’s title refers, and it’s evident that great care went into the planning and creation of this release.

While I: The Great Work is absolutely a step away from trend and convention, one can still see the threads that tie it to its counterparts in greater black metal history. Folks who enjoy the likes of Yellow Eyes and Stillborn Fawn will be just as enthralled as those looking to relive the exhilaration of hearing the Norwegian masters for the first time. There’s no massive reinvention here, but the consuming passion and fire shine through the familiar elements to create something genuine. If tremolo picked melodies, shrill vocals, and blastbeats are your thing, you’ll find them here. If heavy atmosphere and acoustic interludes that evoke getting lost in the woods in winter are your thing, you’re also in luck. Sallow keeps things varied in both pacing and structure, yet the journey is one we’ve all made and enjoyed before. It’s welcome, yet hints at even greater potential to be displayed on future releases.

To further the statement made by both lyrics and music here, Sallow issued this release simultaneously with a second demo, II: Corpses & Ruins. Sallow isn’t pulling that act where it releases every bad idea that comes to mind, but instead has already offered up two fully conceived and realized demos. These tapes are each available from Sallow’s bandcamp and come with a vinyl sticker. Word is getting out. Don’t expect these to remain in stock forever.