Olhava‘s Sacrifice makes for a sublime ambient black metal companion piece that is best enjoyed in the background.

Release date: January 26, 2024 | Avantgarde Music | Facebook | Bandcamp

Like many genres and subgenres, black metal is one that comes in many different forms and flavors. It is nowhere near as one dimensional as people who haven’t given it more than a passing glance deem it to be. One such take on the genre that I’m still absolutely head over heels is Panopticon’s newest record, an atmospheric/folk black metal titan with winding song structures that is an emotional masterpiece of truly epic proportions – listen to it if you haven’t yet. On the other side of the same coin, we have Olhava’s latest effort, Sacrifice, which has a completely different musical objective than most black metal bands out there and that is to drench you in nothing but atmosphere.

Olhava is a prolific duo hailing out of Saint Petersburg, highly regarded for churning out music in the realm of black metal but also ambient. Sacrifice is the spiritual successor to 2020’s Ladoga although it chronologically follows Reborn and a few other albums/singles that embark other musical territories. Ladoga, Reborn, and now Sacrifice make up a collective ‘trilogy’ that in which mankind is slowly approaching a self-inflicted extinction, metaphorically from both a lyrical/conceptual perspective but also musically of course.

‘Sacrifice is the necessary step for one to be Reborn. It’s the ultimate point of no return. Everything one used to value will turn to ash and be forgotten. For only by stripping ourselves of all we know and have can we truly separate our Self from our Ego. Only by burning ourselves can we enjoy peace among stars, but the end is also the beginning. Beginning of new values, a new self built from dust.’

Take one look at the tracklist and you’ll find that Sacrifice is a gargantuan record of nearly ninety minutes. The songs here alternate between the beefy black metal mammoths averaging fifteen minutes in length to the interludes that are much, much shorter; thankfully so with how linear and structurally stagnant those longer tracks are. Taken altogether, you’re left to drown in these immense walls of sounds that provide so much emotional release despite there ‘not being much going on’ musically. I say that as this is more of an ambient record more than anything else; when it comes to black metal, Sacrifice is not filled with twists and turns as does the Panopticon record that I mentioned earlier for example. You get the entire gist of the record from “Forever With You” alone.

While the soundscapes are gorgeously bleak throughout, compositionally the music is incredibly static. It is no easy task to distinguish one track from another on Sacrifice, with the exception of discerning the interludes from the musical meat. This record is so monotonous, yet it is purely intentional as the ambient nature of the composition was the objective from the very beginning. The longer tracks are mostly a constant blast beat from beginning to end, with the only reprieves coming in the form of the “Ageless River” interludes. Despite all that, the sole characteristic that has me glued to this record is the thick atmosphere provided by the guitar tremolos that are masterfully draped over the relentless instrumentation. This facet of the music is especially accentuated when experienced in the background, as you end up not focusing as much on the lack of musical excitement but rather the overall sonic aesthetic that is created.

Sacrifice definitely feels long and exhausting, especially when you’re actively listening along as opposed to just having on in the background and this feeling is mirrored by the album artwork. The music makes you feel as if you’re a sentient being, cursed with immortality to watch the world slowly repair itself after finally having been cleansed of the plague of humanity. You’re doomed to live forever and as a consequence, have lost all sense of time and everything becomes homogenous as does this record from a musical standpoint. In that regard, Olhava does a great job at mirroring that sort of mood. The more that I think about it, this is the entire premise of Rivers of Nihil’s Where Owls Know My Name and even the album artwork is eerily similar to that of Sacrifice, or rather the other way around.

Much like a cabernet pairing well with a juicy, tender steak (rare-medium rare of course), Sacrifice is best enjoyed alongside another form of media, say an epic fantasy novel or a Durge playthrough on Baldur’s Gate III for example. The masterful juxtaposition of the hauntingly gorgeous soundscapes with the exasperated vocal shrieks and instrumentation makes it a thing of beauty, one that is a sneaky alternative for white noise to put the baby to sleep to; you could say this album is helping me keep my sanity in a time in which I don’t get to listen to as much music as I’d like to but that’s okay! If you go into this record with the expectation of this being an ambient record more than anything else, you’ll get a lot more out of it as opposed to expecting massive crescendos and climaxes.

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