Gyrdleah – Spellbinder (Black Lion Records)Friday, 21st April 2023
Gyrdleah has been around for quite a while, technically, and if they’re not ringing a bell, that can’t be held against you. Forming back in 2005, the single member project helmed by Flagrum released an EP in 2011 titled Passage into the Night, which was by all accounts relatively standard low-fi black metal. Afterwards, there was over a decade of silence – until very recently. Flagrum is back, now with the long awaited debut full-length Spellbinder.
With a gap of 12 years between releases, what does Gyrdleah have in store? What Spellbinder accomplishes is to advance beyond its predecessor. Gone is the thin guitar tone that held back Passage into the Night, and instead we have a thick, robust tonality that contains considerable bite. The very first riff on opener “Stab the Lamb” is a methodical, slithering rhythm that rumbles with purpose. Flagrum does a really nice job of letting his guitar work be the focal point of Spellbinder – a wise choice that is the definitive strength of the album. Showing versatility are the effusive, melodic leads that shape songs like “GYFU” and the title track “Spellbinder,” while enormous crunchy riffage perpetually dominates “Speak of the Devil” and first single “VVitch.”
There’s even a blackened doom aesthetic to “Gathered for the Murder” that showcases Flagrum’s advancement of songwriting skills, becoming a standout entry that this writer finds themselves going back to. “Six Hundred Threescore and Six” contains a melodic, mid-paced approach, highlighted by clean vocal passages that were absolutely unexpected, but add a progressive dimension that enhances the dynamics to a noticeable degree. This is the standout track for the album, and the last full song on offer, leaving the listener with something a bit different than the rest of the album to ponder.
Another notable highlight is Flagrum’s harsh vocals – from deep growls to blood curdling shrieks, there’s more range being displayed than previously, dispelling any notion of monotony. Previously mentioned was the much improved guitar tone, and those tightened up production values are felt throughout every instrument. Opting for a meaty sound made a big difference, and is something more black metal artists seem to be taking to heart in the last few years. The bass is also more prominent in the mix, standing out just enough for the thickly stringed low end to be noticed. Adding Alex Micklewright to record the drums also paid off, with the percussive tracks booming into the listener’s eardrums to complete what is now a hefty rhythm section.
Gyrdleah took their time to finally release their first full-length, and those who have waited it out will be rewarded with a fine record of competent and enjoyable black metal. With how much the overall sound has improved and progressed, there’s also still a bit of a way to go until Flagrum drops something truly mind blowing. Aside from a few notable moments, Spellbinder doesn’t always do enough to stand out more from the crowd of black metal releases this year – and there have been numerous excellent releases, with more on the way. With that in mind, however, any fan of black metal absolutely needs to give Gyrdleah’s first album a go, as it’s meticulously written, paying attention to the large and small details, resulting in a wicked black metal LP worthy of a spot in your collection. What Flagrum does next will be interesting, as this writer believes there’s potential for something very special in the future.