Life is pain. In both immeasurable atrocities and mundane disappointments, there is only acceptance that no one gets out alive, no one escapes without scars, and no one will know what is beyond the periphery. As enthusiasts of music famously obsessed with mortality and the myriad ways it is expressed, none of this surprises us. We wallow in the morbid for its catharsis and in spite of a cultural denial that without exception, the lives we live are ephemeral extremities of an indifferent reality. On its sophomore release, Kyiv’s Sidus Atrum intends to pull at the threads of mortality to reveal the innate horror and solace within.
Released in March 2022 through Kvlt and Kaos Productions, Spiral of Life is a meditation on earthly existence and the vagaries of emotions it can inflict on each of us. Beginning as a solo project by composer Yulia Lykhotvor in 2015, Sidus Atrum continues to refine the elegant and anguished blackened dirges that were introduced with 2019’s Cold Silence, the band’s debut, to create its best work to date.
Spiral of Life ruminates on the cyclical nature of life and peers beyond the edges to speculate the machinations of ensoulment and decay. Lykhotvor does not seek philosophical examination but an acrimonious contemplation on the mandate that to live is to be fragile, vulnerable, and ready to suffer, and that nobody truly begins this transaction willingly. The songs that comprise Sea of Life speak to this, presenting the rage, sorrow, grace, and resolve of a soul exhausted but determined to fulfill what it is compelled towards in spite of its reservations.
Musically, Lykhotvor weaves aggressive and powerful outbursts with ethereal hymns and balances the two such that neither feel like they are given short shrift. Gothic dirges and savage growls repulse and give way to each other in a manner that invigorates the listener and demands rapt attention. The instrumentation churns like a tempestuous ocean at the highest peaks of fury but also ferries gentle melodies that still retain the resolute spirit of their apoplectic counterparts. Vocally, Lykhotvor’s mournful singing and enraged roar spectacularly convey the pathos and anger of a life lived against its will. The composition on this album gels all these elements together with an admirable level of precision and ensures each performance is highlighted without any upstaging or forced complexity. Along with Yulia Lykhotvor, credit is due as well to Serhii Lykhotvor (of Sad Alice Said) who contributed additional support for the guitars and arrangements and to Daniel Neagoe (of Clouds, Daius, and Eye of Solitude) who contributed guest vocals on the song “Rain Brings Your Voice”.
As the sole member of Sidus Atrum, Yulia Lykhotvor exudes the confidence an artist with twice her tenure, and the decisions on Spiral of Life exemplifies this. The attention to detail given to each song and the consideration given to the nuances that surround each song exemplify a meticulously planned vision and a refusal to rush any part of that vision’s production. Every decision feels rooted and deliberate, and the weight of its artistic intent is felt throughout the entire run time. It’s striking how little this feels like a sophomore effort, particularly so when only three years have passed since Sidus Atrum’s first full length with only a handful of collaborations during the intervening years. Lykhotvor is likely showing her hand that mature and nuanced compositions will be the norm for Sidus Atrum going forward.
It’s difficult to say whether Spiral of Life will leave listeners wanting more by the album’s conclusion. Six songs in approximately 40 minutes could almost feel breezy despite its aggressive doom-laden atmosphere. The relative brevity feels almost like a relic of archaic format restrictions, and possibly spiting the breathing room granted by trends moving away from physical media. I am more than happy to grant Lykhotvor the benefit of the doubt, however, that Spiral of Life accomplishes exactly what she intended it to do. As much as I would have liked more time with Sidus Atrum’s melodic blackened doom, an extra song or even some extra minutes on these existing songs might have tipped the scales from effective to fluff, and thus diluted any statement by meandering on points already well-tread.
This is especially a danger when there are as many black and death metal elements mixed in as there are in Spiral of Life. The allure of hard to soft and fast to slow transitions can fade to become dull, rote, and predictable when done for too long or too repetitively. Lykhotvor successfully navigates her song structures away from a paint-by-numbers approach while still using familiar techniques that define this genre. The ingredients are all there, as everyone knows them, and Lykhotvor crafts a familiar but unique presentation based on her own measurements and style, with a few surprises as well. A less successful effort would have seen the same ingredients tossed in with less finesse and a few prayers that everything would coalesce into something palatable.
All things considered, Spiral of Life is a strong recommendation. “Farewell” is probably the best encapsulation of Sidus Atrum’s capabilities, but “Breath of Agony” stands out as the most aggressive and propulsive song on the album. But there isn’t really any reason to highlight these two above just four other songs of equal caliber. All of them, in order, are worth your time and attention.
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