Though it has gone through many stylistic changes over the years, one of the tenants of black metal has always been the harsh, raspy vocals over the pummeling blast beats and distorted guitar riffs. Some bands have played with and tweaked this formula, adding clean vocals here and there to complement the rasps, and interjecting long passages of ambient music in between lyrics. But what happens if you take away those vocals entirely, leaving only the music? Temple seeks to answer this question directly, with their brand of black metal-influenced instrumental metal on their debut album On the Steps of the Temple.
For the most part, it works quite well; On the Steps of the Temple is a solid debut that takes a daring approach to both the black metal and instrumental genres, combining a bevy of musical styles and ideas over the course of its 53-minute runtime. There are distorted guitar riffs, but also intricate solos that drop in and out of songs, seemingly from out of nowhere. There are voice overs and there are slower, ambient passages; there’s even a piano at one point. Four of the songs clock in at over eight minutes, and the band takes full advantage of this, giving the songs time to grow and have both darker, melodic passages and blistering, harsher sections. It’s when the two come together, as in album closer “On the Steps of the Temple,” that Temple really shines, as the furious guitar riffs are balanced with an ethereal melody to create something that is both disconcerting and relaxing. Ambient black metal is predicated on this balance, and when Temple nails it they’re as good as any band in the genre.
This isn’t to say the songs on which the band takes an either/or approach are bad by any means; “Mountain” is a scorcher of an album opener, over eight minutes of lightning-fast guitar and crashing symbols welcoming you to your listening experience, while “Final Years” goes for the opposite end of the spectrum with its acoustic guitar, tinkling piano keys, and light cymbal fills. With those two tracks, Temple proves they can do only heavy or only light well, even great; it just isn’t as captivating as when they mix the two. Additionally, although the music is very good, it’s unlikely anything you haven’t heard before, although it’s packaged differently and put together in a different and creative way.
Instrumental bands are judged on their technical prowess and their ability to build and craft songs that keep listeners engaged without the crutch of a vocalist, and Temple succeeds on both of these fronts. On the Steps of the Temple doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s an enjoyable and innovative spin on two genres that can easily stagnate, and well worth a listen for any instrumental or black metal fan, and if you think you like black metal but hate some guy screaming in your ear, this is definitely the album for you. On the Steps of the Temple is available now at Temple’s Bandcamp page, http://templeofficial.bandcamp.com/album/on-the-steps-of-the-temple.