Yellow Eyes copped a raw deal from the start. Their DIY debut from 2012, Silence Threads The Evening’s Cloth, was (not unfairly) compared to Krallice, who (somewhat unfairly) are often accused of “scene tourism” because of its members’ involvement in other kinds of music. That’s black metal for you. Yellow Eyes’ stomping ground of not-very-kvlt New York also didn’t help, inspiring from-thin-air allegations of vegan hipsterdom.

Undeterred, the band has plowed ahead over the past decade with a couple of EPs and four albums–the latter two, wonderfully titled Immersion Trench Reverie and Rare Field Ceiling, cementing Yellow Eyes’ reputation for extreme eccentricity well within the bounds of black metal’s foundations. Throughout this time, the main draw has always been the hypnotic dual guitar work between the Brothers Skarstad (Will and Sam).

The band’s wider pedigree must also not be underestimated. Will has links to the sorely missed House of First Light, as well as a solo project, Ustalost, and drummer Mike Rekevics boasts an extensive portfolio ranging from Vanum, to Vilkacis, Vorde, and way back to Fell Voices.

But for all this eclecticism, nothing could have prepared us for Yellow Eyes’ latest album, Master’s Murmur, which was released without warning at the end of October through the band’s own imprint, Sibir Records, with an LP to follow on Gilead Media.

So what’s the big deal? Well, Master’s Murmur isn’t strictly a black metal record. Note that this is not an improbable event–just look at how Laster or Furia continually reinvent themselves.

But that isn’t to say that Yellow Eyes is shunning the style, which makes Master’s Murmur all the more exciting. Sure, the first blast beat might not turn up until a good 13 minutes of the album has elapsed, but it drops in such an organic way that fans and newcomers alike should feel in safe hands as the band takes you on a tour of what we’ll call “adjacent” music.

Take “Anywhere Out Of The World” from Dead Can Dance’s 1987 album Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun. No rock instrumentation to be heard, clean singing, and yet we have an atmosphere remarkably close to what would become familiar sonics for black metal over the next decade. As such, you can find a lot of extreme metal fans also moving in post-industrial, neoclassical, and darkwave circles. We could take Master’s Murmur as a love letter to these equally leftfield genres that often tread similar ground despite disparate motivations and methods.

Opener “Old Acclivity Dream” couldn’t be a better mission statement. An air raid siren of woodwinds blaring out of harmony, thrumming bass, then guitar noise verging on power electronics, before a haunting melodic theme surfaces out of the cacophony. The transition into the self-titled track could go entirely unnoticed, and here we begin to see Yellow Eyes employing textures from dungeon synth, neofolk, and even Tolkien-esque landscapes.

Yet Yellow Eyes’ identity remains. Will hasn’t suddenly turned into Dead Can Dance mastermind Brendan Perry, keeping hold of his venomous bark in spite of the music’s less obvious aggression. Nor has the band shirked what makes it distinct–the Skarstads’ guitars still writhe and intertwine into the uncanny, only this time round much of it is drenched in reverb and delay instead of distortion. Underneath, the murky power chords and bass move much slower, evoking the spirit of drone and doom.

Meanwhile, percussion is purposefully sparse, first reminding us of its presence on “Winter is Looking” with a thumping bass drum punctuating the track’s dirge-like qualities. Then, as the synth line reaches a climax, Rekevics’ telltale fills smash the relative tranquility and dive into a blast beat for the first “black metal” moment of Master’s Murmur, while a strummed acoustic guitar and piano guide the piece to its conclusion.

“Irrlicht” is borderline ritual music where the realms of dungeon synth and drone collide effortlessly, and a disembodied voice casts spells through the smoke of a sorcerer’s cauldron. “When Jackie’s Lamps Have Showed” snaps from dark ambient into a swirling madness of acoustic guitars and bells. Bells are a recurring theme in Yellow Eyes’ work, whether they come from field recordings or it’s the sound of the guitars themselves as on “Old Alpine Pang” from Immersion Trench Reverie. Old habits die hard, and “The Ritual is Gone” sees Rekevics’ savage blasts return for an ecstatic melding of ambient, noise, black metal, and, yes, more bells, underpinned by church organ-like synth.

The whole album oozes a sense of the occult and folk horror, whether it’s the incantations of the lyrics, the bleating of sheep (or goats) in the next field over on “Gold Door to Blindness,” or the cover art of a faceless hooded figure among crops. All this could hint at what’s to come from Yellow Eyes next because, as you may or may not be pleased to know, Master’s Murmur is one in a pair of companion albums. Per the band, it is “the first of two complementary releases conjoined in spirit, a surreal, sinister industrial folk prelude to an upcoming full-band LP” in 2024.

With Master’s Murmur already displaying Yellow Eyes at their most confident, experimental, and discerning, we cannot wait to hear what follows.
Richard Currie

Label: Sibir Records