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Wednesday 28 June 2023

Review: Ofnus – Time Held Me Grey And Dying

Ofnus – Time Held Me Grey And Dying (Naturmacht Productions)

Artwork By Robert F Pangborn
"These are but dreaming men. Breathe, and they fade"

This quote from Dylan Thomas’ collected poems is used throughout the build up to South Wales atmospheric black metal band Ofnus’ debut. The words of Thomas, conjure images of dreamlike states, empty vistas and the fragility of reality, the same kind of high concept, introspection that Ofnus want to portray on their album Time Held Me Grey And Dying (yet again paraphrased from Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill). Formed from members of Agrona, Blind Divide, Black Pyre and Democratus, Ofnus have been mastering the slow build, working on this album before even playing a single show, focussing on getting a full album together, deciding on the right label, drip feed marketing and then performing live. With less than 10 shows under their belt they will perform at Bloodstock this year, which is a testament to the work put in by all the band members.

Now I can probably be accused of being biased as I do know all of the band members, (my wife even took the promotional pictures) but I’ve built up years of journalistic integrity so I’m sure you’ll all allow me to indulge myself, just this once as I’m sure there will be plenty of reviews that will agree with my analysis. I’m approaching this album like any other, I’ve spent a LOT of time with it and I can honestly say I love it. Not because of the connection to the band but because it’s the type of black metal I’m drawn to, atmospheric, evocative and cloaked in maudlin, the fits of sheer rage counterpointed by moments of meditative bliss. If you listen to the album, you will know exactly what I mean but let’s dive a little deeper, into the album itself, embracing the chill of a biting wind across an empty coastline as we walk closer and closer to the winter sea.

Coming to life with dissonant beginnings, the harmony leads begin Burned By The Soul Of The Moon in earnest before the song fully begins, the chugging rhythm guitars of composer Alyn Hunter and chiming leads James Ponsford, pitched against the multiple layers of orchestration as the bass of Richard Rees, does more than, fleshes out the bottom end, keeping a rhythm of its own for the tremolo picked leads to build upon, the furious blast of drummer Ethan Rees-Spargo immense as they shift between furious black metal assaults and the more reserved moments of fury. As the 9 minutes counts down we’re given Iron Maiden-like melodies as choral chants are phrased while the blasts come back into the final solo section as James lets rip with some soulful leads.

You get enough time to breathe, before William Philpot unleashes another fervent roar, evoking the pagan gods of old with his multifaceted vocal style, he is the vessel through which the sadness and despair is siphoned, The Endless Grey slowing into a doomy pace, but still featuring intense drum workouts from Ethan as the raw emotion, is wrung out of every note, the orchestrations that swell throughout the song lifting what is already impressive to higher standing. I actually felt emotion coursing through my body when I listen to this first time, and of course every subsequent time it doesn’t dissipate at all. It’s not longest track on the album but its brevity allows it to hit you hard.

Fading Dreams comes close to the more ‘traditional’ black metal sound, pressing the gas pedal fully and not relenting until the spoken word piece towards the end, it’s a way of letting out the emotion of the previous two songs with in an intense detonation of extreme metal bliss. Now you are probably familiar with the next track, Grains Of Sand was the first single released to promote the album, the video featured Will being buried in sand, the song itself has an agonizing Celtic-inspired motif, that leads into some ambient, melodic lead guitar out of a few prog rock bands, beautiful in their simplicity. As the expressive main rhythm comes back the orchestrations have an industrial quality to them before a hard stop finishes things.

Monody really is an interlude, a glistening moment of clarity, between the ferocious waves of sadness, filled with introspection, its brief but affecting meaning that next song Exulansis (The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it) is all the more jarring as the brutish riffs of Alyn, Richard and James break free of constraints, William strikes at the heart with his roars, the choirs and symphonic flourishes broaden the sound of the song completely, like Fading Dreams it’s more towards the traditional sound but has enough of the atmospheric style to give it a frigid intensity right through to the melodic guitar solo at the close. These melodic features are spread few and far between but reappear on the beginning of penultimate cut Echoes.

Again they don’t linger, the potent brew of black metal aggression Ofnus partake in the focus again, though Echoes retains lots of harmonised leads over the tremolo picking and blast beating. Time Held Me Grey And Dying comes to a close with A Thousand Lifetimes, the culmination of all that has come before, this 8 minute final epic, is Ofnus declaring that they are far from finished, a dramatic track with plenty of pace and stylistic changes, weaving its magic upon the listener for the pinnacle of this album. The last soundscape of a grief-stricken expedition. Though with more music coming they haven’t reached the apotheosis of what they can do just yet.

The muscle and eloquence of this album is not only due to the compositions, lyrics and performance, the production from Woodcraft Audio, mix from Will and mastering from Abe Fihemma this dark, pensive, introverted record sound broad and cinematic, like Nordic noir put to Welsh hiraeth, a deep longing and counteracted by sense of disconnection. Ofnus have played the long game and they have made Time Held Me Grey And Dying about as perfect as a debut album as there can be. I’ve been telling for a while not to sleep on this band, they play Bloodstock this year and they will be rapidly rising up the ranks from there. Buy this album! Support Welsh metal! 10/10

Photo By Konstantina Frasia Photography Cardiff

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