Updated: Oct 1
In the year of our Lord 2020, some bands are finding that they have way more time on their hands than they’re used to, ever will again, and ever should. That said, the strain that the ongoing pandemic has put on, well, everyone, has left some acts struggling to put together material, whether completely new and original or tinkering with old riffs and sections to pull new songs together. Unreqvited, a one-man show of post-metal, black metal, and ambient, looks at that, chuckles a bit, then gives us a whole host of new content in just a few months’ time.
Even setting aside the split EPs with Sylvaine (Time Without End) and Asunojokei (Nocturne), Unreqvited have put out two full albums’ worth of material. Better yet, the Toronto faithful has reissued his debut LP Disquiet, complete with an unreleased new track. The fact that one person, known only as 鬼, has cranked out this much work in a shitshow of a year is substantial. The fact that it’s this good, this mesmerizing and captivating, is an achievement.
First on the docket is Mosaic II: la déteste et la détresse, the sequel to 2018’s Mosaic I: l'amour et l'ardeur released back in January. “Nightfall” starts off with spacey effects and a clean guitar lick. By minute two, the guitars are overdriven, with a haunting piano doubling and buffering the riff as the atmosphere builds and builds. “Wasteland” brings things closer to symphonic black metal territory, with some positively gorgeous clean guitar passages. “Pale” brings in some more chorus- and delay-driven guitars and some dreamy bass lines, right up until things go full black around the three minute mark. The guitar work on this song is especially praise-worthy, and given the fretwork in most of Unreqvited’s catalog, that’s saying something. Even at this track’s most uneasy and aggressive, there is an undeniable beauty to the music, and that elevates this track above the others.
The synth and piano work on “Disorder” stand out, adding an otherworldly quality to an already esoteric-feeling track. When the heavy guitars kick in for the second act of this track, they add a fire that crackles and pops in a wintry backdrop, a light in the bleak darkness and dread. “Transience” is a story in three parts, conveniently structured as the final three tracks of this album, beginning with the ambient “The Ambivalent” and its slow build. It features minimal percussion, almost sounding like a synthwave album played on an old cassette deck that’s past its good years. “The Gentle Void” is driven forward by its chilling piano lines, wearing the listener down with a cinematic-style piano line that wouldn’t sound out of place in a trailer for the next Hollywood thriller film. We end on “The Static,” an odd entry with no percussion and all of the other black metal instrumentation. All of the guitars, all of the synths, all of the orchestration, but none of the drumming. Granted, the drums aren’t the focus of the music here, nor do they need to be, but they do draw attention with their absence.
Disquiet begins with the instrumental “Birth,” as a clean guitar picks up and down the chords, with some diminished synths underneath adding a bit of levity to this calm before the storm. Around the halfway mark, the metallic edge comes back, as the chords now become a backbone with a lead guitar and doubling synth line. “The Autumn Fire” picks up where the previous track left off, with the chords that opened it now being played on a distorted guitar, rather than clean. The last two minutes bring the blast beats, and while I didn’t necessarily miss them, I’m glad they’re here, as they take this track into full black metal territory, even if hearing pretty synth and piano lines over them is an odd experience if ever there were.
The title track has some great dual leads, with even more howling and disdain in the vocals. Where the occasional scream has bled through in previous tracks, this has some proper anguish, not to mention more screaming to get the point across. To break things up after a nine-plus minute affair, we get a pair of three minute tracks, the first being the atmosphere-crafting “A Tear in the Oak.” The orchestral passages merge with the airy, ethereal synth work to provide a moment of respite after the violence brought forth in the title track, right before blast beat o’clock strikes on “An Ocean of Ire.” The waves crash as the drums spin the listener into chaos with fervor and fearlessness.
“Maydena” is my pick for the best overall guitar work on this album, with its subtle build in the first couple of measures. The heavy sections feature leads that one could feasibly hum along to, while the chiller sections have more of that sweet clean guitar work that makes this post-metal perfection. The nine-minute marathon that is “Death” starts off somber and restrained, building up its sound over time. The drums and the guitars don’t even make an appearance until roughly five minutes in, and the final ninety seconds or so are purely piano, reminding me of a certain wrestler who used a different track for his exit than he did his entrance. Finally, the new song “Afterlands” features some tremolo picked guitars way back in the mix around the two minute mark, with the full band holding off until around the halfway point, again utilizing that slow musical burn that sets this act apart from many others.
Empathica starts off with a trio of tracks comprising an eponymous thread, the first of which being the symphonic and scenic “Heart of the Spectral Mountains.” From its opening howling winds to the orchestration, the album opens up on an epic scale full of life, bleeding into “Everwinter” seamlessly. Starting off with a shining clean guitar melody, this eight and a half minute trek through the tundra is kicked off with octave riffs and some incredible orchestration. You can visualize an impending dusk in a snow-blanketed landscape as you hear this track, it’s ungodly levels of evocative. The third and final part of this opening salvo is “Innocence,” a ten minute tour de force starting off with piano lines dancing along the keys, before bringing crunching riffs and menacing double kicks at the two minute mark. Even with the coldest of black metal backbone holding this together, the synth and orchestral work that plays off of this is striking, yet never does it feel schizophrenic or like it’s working through its imposter syndrome right in front of us. This duality of savage beauty and blistering elegance is key to unlocking the very core of Unreqvited’s work.
“Crystal Cascade” isn’t interested in playing up the panache like other tracks have, rather plunging right into classic black metal territory. The symphonic passages and backdrops evoke feelings of bands like Dimmu Borgir and early Cradle of Filth, embracing the metal of their post-metal label warmly. The last couple of minutes have some bluesy guitar licks to close things out, just as things get weird and ersatz to kick off “Snowspirits of the Arcane.” It’s a restrained track, but still a gorgeous interlude paired with an ominous whistler doubling the ending melody.
Four minutes is a sprint given some of Unreqvited’s material, but on “Permafrost,” they manage to fit a lot into that timeframe, bringing that slow burn they’ve more or less perfected by this point for a twisted and tantalizing second half. Finally, to cap off Empathica, we have the spacey, otherworldly “Dreamer’s Hideaway,” full of pianos, synths, and sound effects that serve as a comedown from an epic journey through frozen wastelands.
Thus ends our journey through the full-length outputs of an artist that genuinely has me excited for more after every listen. Should post-genre music be this casual of listening? Maybe not, but it is for me, and if their output is this frequent, dare I say that I’ll be reviewing another LP from Unreqvited by year’s end. This is gorgeous, cinematic, epic music, pushing the limits of what extreme music can be, and it must not be looked past.
Mosaic II, Disquiet, and Empathica are all available now via Prophecy Productions.