Xela and I got off to an unfairly bad start, as I was first exposed to John Twells through his anomalous black metal opus (The Illuminated) in 2008 and decided that his work just wasn't for me. Curiously, that very album began the trilogy that this album finishes, but the only real trait that the two albums share is a devotion to all things bleak, murky, and ominous, this time manifested in beautifully forlorn, slow-motion drone. That evolution is a welcome one. In fact, the first half of this album is easily one of the best pieces that I have heard all year.
Having already ambitiously tackled nautical horror with 2006's The Dead Sea, it was only natural that Twells would eventually decide to tackle horror on a much deeper and metaphysical level. He certainly did not shy away from the challenge, as this trilogy is very Milton/Dante-esque in both content and scope, with the emphasis placed quite squarely on the infernal side of life (and the afterlife).
As befits a fascination with the fall of man and the torments of hell, Twells' recent sound has been a rather scorched, gnarled, and corroded one, which is both a blessing and curse. That hissing murkiness is very effective at conveying an atmosphere of vague dread and hinted-at nightmarishness, but it also has a tendency to obscure the content or even to become the focus itself. It is hard to keep a 20-minute piece compelling on atmosphere alone, but John has recently become very adept at combining his textural genius with similarly inspired composition and melody. The Sublime begins exactly where The Divine's stunning "Of The Light And Of The Stars" left off, burying heavenly drones and swells beneath a patina of rot and decay in the opening "Lust & Paradise." The effect is both achingly beautiful and crushingly sad.
"Lust & Paradise" is definitely the stronger of the two pieces, due to its steady throb, spectral melody, and slow-burning accumulation of power. The closing "Eve's Riposte" has some inspired moments too though, especially the simple melancholy melody lurking beneath all the mist and rumble. It would actually be the perfect languid come-down for the entire trilogy if it wasn't for for a monotonous and increasingly invasive major chord swell that consumes most of its second half. I was initially horrified that Twells' was ending such an audaciously ugly and dark-hearted undertaking on an uplifting note, but some discordant grinding and buzzing mercifully arrived at the very end to plunge everything into discordance and hopelessness once more. That late album derailment aside, this remains a remarkable effort: few albums can boast an entire side of absolute perfection like "Lust & Paradise."
(Note: The Sublime was originally issued on cassette by Digitalis in 2010 with extremely cool cover art, but that version is long unavailable)