I was at my friend’s house the other night for a social event and after the majority of the attendees had left we headed out to the backyard to wind down the evening around a fire. After we sit and reminisce about the evening’s goings-on, he looks me right in the eye and asks me, ‘Jake, what bugs you the most about progressive black metal these days?’ Without hesitation, I calmly told him that overblown production that dulls the edge of the music is a real problem in this specific subgenre. He agreed. We went on to down a few more pints and the topics shifted. It’s been weeks since that night and I still think about how odd it was that this was a question that he’d ask me specifically, then I remembered that this whole story was a lie to help me start this review. There was no friend, there were no pints, but my love of raw, edged, progressive black metal is real and for that reason, I can’t wait to tell you more about Izthmi.
Hailing from Seattle, this is a band that I’ve been familiar with for a few years, specifically when they released The Arrows of Our Ways. I loved their take on the genre but as is often the case, the deluge of releases that wash over us on a weekly basis pushed this band further to the back of my mind. Well, here comes 2022 and along with it, we have a new album from this band who have zeroed in on what makes them great and are executing it at an even higher level than before. Leaving This World, Leaving It All Behind is one of the most complete black metal experiences of the year so far for a variety of reasons, most of which I will extol in this review and the others you can unearth for yourself.
Hearkening back to my previous fabricated anecdote, one of, if not the greatest thing to note about this album is the production. I’m not usually one to quibble over such a thing as I by no means consider myself an authority on production choices and details. That’s not to say that I don’t notice these choices and how they can contribute or detract from an album, but rarely does my focus linger here. With Leaving This World…, however, I think it’s in many ways the defining quality of the album. Instead of over-compressing and shining up the album through the production, Izthmi chose to let things feel more raw and natural, even rough. While this is by no means new for black metal, employing this choice brings a grounded feel to the album that ensures that the magic comes from the compositions and performances rather than an artificial sheen.
So let’s talk about these compositions and performances. After a brief intro track, “The Shadow of Our Disillusionment” kicks off with a lilting riff and some hi-hat rolling that is again uncommonly raw and alive, and after the rest of the instrumentation and vocals join it becomes obvious that there is something special going on. The howling, haunting vocals put this track over the top but each member of the supporting cast does wonders to give the song life and resonance with small progressive nods and wrinkles along the way. Clean guitar leads off “The Laughable Semblance of Freedom” and along with the vocals evoke a bit of a skramz mood before the later blast beats and ferocious double bass drums kick things into a progressive black metal orbit. The many nooks and crannies of each song are filled with elements that evoke not only compositional prowess but also emotional impact and that is rare indeed to find in this genre.
There are lots and lots of ideas and moments that I adore about this record. The pacing by sandwiching smaller interludes between the longer tracks to aid in the flow and transitions, the inclusion of piano, and just how emotional the album is without sacrificing any of the edge or harshness for which this genre is known. None of these things are small feats by any stretch. The jazzy penultimate track “Leaving This World” and the closer “Leaving It All Behind” are the two shiniest jewels in this crown and while there is plenty to unpack with these songs, I do want you just to go and listen to the album now. As time passes, I fear that this record will be overlooked so I want to implore you to purchase this album and tell your friends. In my mind, it’s one of the finest things this young year has produced and I can see myself listening to it many times and well into the future.