A God or an Other tiptoe a fine, contentious line within their genre. There’s something about black metal that draws from diverse interests such as doom, post-rock, hardcore, shoegaze and neofolk that puts purists on edge. Since the release of Towers of Silence, A God or an Other have been frequently pigeonholed into boxes such as “Cascadian metal” and, god forbid, “hipster metal”. Their harshest critics assume that anything other than Christ-hating, limp-fisted, red-faced hatred cannot be considered “true” black metal, and that A God or an Other should be written off as a trendy flight of fancy.
Let’s be honest: this “no mosh, no core, no fun” mentality has become seriously stale. Furthermore, to concede that all metal that sounds vaguely organic or spiritual must come from the same area of the country is nothing more than farce. While A God or an Other do hail from the Pacific Northwest, they are far more than some tree-hugging, sage-burning bohemians. There is nothing here that would ever evoke Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s pontification. This is a band that has spun a masterpiece out of influences so diverse they shouldn’t even work together. Towers of Silence is a monolith of numinous black metal, one which has every right to blow the faces off its naysayers.
So what is it that makes A God or an Other controversial? Is it their fearlessness in the face of the dreaded major chord? Or their riffs that, while intense, feel like a cleansing rain instead of a murky slough? The first sign that this album is something special comes from the muted trumpet solo that wafts in halfway through album opener “Synesthesia”. A God or an Other, like Taake before them with their out-of-nowhere banjo solo, have thrown a completely atypical instrument into a sprawling metal track, and against all odds it works beautifully.
As the album progresses, A God or an Other continue to weave their influences together with a deft hand. Gentle major-scale arpeggios on “Defiled Ossuary” radiate warmth, while bracing doom progressions lay on like a cleansing siege in “…and All the World a Great Stained Altar Stone”. Thick, hardcore- and doom-influenced chords drop like someone letting go of an armful of bricks. There are shades of Agalloch on album closer “Agate Passage”, while “Unbroken Reign of Glacial Death” heaps on harrowing, Leviathan-esque malcontent and “Xibalba” builds to a crisp tremolo storm over skittering hailstone drums.
While many aspects of Towers are soaring and ambitious, it is still raw, powerful black metal at its core. There is some muscular, gravelly bass holding this record down, and the vocals are a pure archetypal black metal rasp, like a strange, withered creature crying out in a dark cave. Like much black metal, this is a wintry-sounding album, but not necessarily a cold, lifeless one: think thawing your snow-chapped face by a fire, not dying in a blizzard. Fittingly, as the days begin to get darker and colder, A God or an Other have quite a few local shows coming up, so keep an eye out for their signature fortress of fog machines and live visuals on a local stage. Or check them out here: www.agodoranother.bandcamp.com