It has been six years since Salem duo-turned-quartet 1476 released one of 2017’s most underrated albums. Our Season Draws Near struck a unique balance of apocalyptic folk, black metal, and punk rock, but even that seems like a limiting description of the band’s ambitions. Few artists have achieved such scope while maintaining such a thrust of vulnerable emotion. Artistic visions like this deserve all the exposure in the world, which this follow-up album deserves all the more. While grander and more pulverizing than its predecessor, In Exile maintains the raw emotion and untethered artistry at the core of 1476.
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According to multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robb Kavjian, In Exile was born from lucid dreams in which primordial deities showed him their respective afterlife worlds. As heady as it sounds, it’s a reasonable explanation for why 1476 undergoes so many transformations this time around. Opener “Lost In Exile” crescendoes from forlorn, protracted guitar strains and gains momentum until it charges forward with a galloping d-beat and explosively melodic riffage. Kavjian’s unfiltered singing voice commingles with more traditional black metal screams, as the instrumentation provides a neo-crust take on the kaleidoscopic folk black metal of Agalloch or Sólstafir.
In its immersive atmosphere, In Exile retains a sense of proximity. The dancing arpeggios and trotting shuffle of “Lapis Fire Through The Mist” could fit around a campfire as easily as a dingy punk venue. The campfire vibe only grows once the post-punk vibes give way to the mandolin-driven sway of “Tristesse In Exile.” Whether it’s the former’s smokey gloom or the latter’s layered harmonies and bewildering instrumentation, Kavjian’s voice becomes the real highlight. His full effect takes from Quorthon’s primitive passion and David Tibet’s unabashed theatrics, giving 1476 a sonic signature not through technical chops, but through heartfelt catharsis.
This unfiltered vocal delivery gives more rock-oriented tracks like “Jade Fire A Paragon,” in that its resonance doesn’t lessen when songs become less metal. As 1476 grows from nimble acoustic licks and dreary electric leads to a sizeable, synth-laden post-rock crescendo, Kavjian explores a full range of melodies and knows exactly when to let loose an unbridled scream. “Where Kings Fall” achieves a similar effect as it rises from buzzing hurdy-gurdy drones to a rustic occult rock jam. In its stripped-down arrangement, the track still wells in the ambiance while giving the unique character of Kavjian’s singing to shine all the brighter.
The meat of In Exile centers on combination rather than polarization, like the tuneful power of “When Comes The Dawn. It rejects traditional structure as it sweeps through blast beats, half-time shuffles, and triumphant refrains with dynamic fluidity and surprisingly sticky hooks. It’s telling that drummer Neil DeRosa waits to use his double kick on “A Queen In Exile,” giving an extra push to the descending tremolo guitars and completing a particularly memorable chorus. Even so, there’s always room for expressive acoustic guitar, rhythmic eruptions, and even a good old-fashioned psych-rock guitar solo. Considering their unorthodox sound, it’s a credit to 1476 that they temper their experimentation and indulgence with tasteful songwriting.
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It certainly pays to have DeRosa at the helm for “May Mountains Never Fall,” which offers another shot of punk-ish adrenaline for the album’s midsection. In turn, Kavjian intuitively follows the surging speed with powerful chords and lets extended instrumentation breathe during the tumbling tom-tom buildups. The same principle rings true when the riffs hit a fever pitch during the thundering feedback-laden intro of “Carnelian Fire The Gallows.” But it only happens once, leaving the next six minutes to divulge in post-punk at its most bombastic and chugging hard rock at its most anthemic. In tactful purpose, 1476 truly earns that culmination of cymbal-washed half-time drums, transient vocal harmonies, and glimmering guitar embellishments.
Both core members of 1476 have experience with purely atmospheric music, be it Kavjian’s dungeon synth project Monastery or new age soundscapes from DeRosa via L-XIII. This portfolio of mood music manifests in “Beyond The Meadows, Beyond The Moors” through the cinematic qualities of the textural synths, earthy hand percussion, and hypnotic acoustic guitar loops. It also pays off tremendously on the lengthy closer “Where Are You.” Though comparatively quiet, the song’s articulate, detailed musicality achieves concludes In Exile with expansive beauty. After journeying through many machinations of what lies beyond mortal life, it’s fitting to end the proceedings with a haunting question: “Where are you/ Lost in the labyrinth.”
For all of In Exile’s twists and turns, the intimate side of 1476 remains the foundation of their sound. Taking away the extra layers reveals some quality neo-folk, so the added heft serves to further the effect rather than compensate for any lack thereof. These guys have clearly committed themselves to their songwriting craft over the past 16 years, regardless of any gap between new material. If In Exile proves anything, it’s that 1476 will remain a band deserving of attention whenever they drop new music.