Skyward will be the tenth Evergreen Refuge full-length since 2012. Thrown in a pair of splits and a live album, and one might guess that Dylan Rupe (Cuscuta, Arête), the lone individual behind the band, is one of those misanthropic bedroom black metal artists who churns out a couple of lo-fi releases a year.
It’s a reasonable guess, but it’s also incorrect.
The Colorado-based project has always been a bit difficult to pin down, in no small part because Evergreen Refuge has always eschewed vocals. Yet even with this purely instrumental approach, the deep reverence for nature – its power to heal, its potential as a destructive force – that forms the heart of Evergreen Refuge’s music has been clear and consistent, even as Rupe’s sound has proven variable. His earliest releases melded atmospheric black metal with post-rock and acoustic elements, which evolved into awe-inspiring excursions in blackened folk on the trilogy of Weminuchia, As the Fires Burn, and Embers.
With the exception of Embers, easily the heaviest album in Evergreen Refuge’s discography, Rupe has been in a more introspective mode on his last several outings, which have been largely acoustic affairs. Skyward sees him turn his contemplative gaze outwards, stepping out of the woods and into the expanses of space. It also introduces a new element to Evergreen Refuge’s sound, as ambient passages dominate the single song album’s 67-minute run time. In fact, the first guitar doesn’t appear until nearly twelve minutes into the track.
In some ways, the comparatively cooler tones of the album match its celestial source of inspiration, but like all of Evergreen Refuge’s music, there’s far more going on than simply that. As Rupe describes it:
“Many nights I have spent under the stars. I often dream about a world completely outside of civilization–its values, its beliefs, its stories. The stars make me dream of a world in which we have our own stories. One in which we look to the heavens not as that which has yet to be exploited, but rather in awe and wonder. We look to the stars for guidance. We look to the stars to look within.
It has become somewhat of a cliché to claim that the stars are our origin, yet it is still wholly true. And indeed the cosmos are a macrocosm of many of the systems we see on this small place we call home. It is no wonder the stars have been at the heart of many culture’s creation stories throughout the world.
The universe is endless, which can make us feel insignificant. But to me it makes me feel significant. It allows me to understand the beauty of our existence and our ability to stargaze. It allows me to think about how amazing it is that I am here–that these trees, animals, water, fungi are all here. Yet I am overcome with the feeling that civilization itself is insignificant. Humanity has not been here all that long–civilization even less so–especially when you consider the vastness of that which is in the skies.
The vastness of the stars can inspire us. It can humble us.”
Skyward will be available on March 20 from A Moment of Clarity Recordings in three formats: digitally; a limited to 100 CD housed in a black Arigato pack, featuring art created by Derek Schultz and a four panel insert of photography by Infinite Forests and an edition of 50 blue cassettes within an o-card featuring photography by Infinite Forests, all housed in black brad packs sealed with gold wax and stamped with art on the front.
One track, over an hour long. That alone will either excite you to your core or put you off completely. Hopefully it is the former as Evergreen Refuge take us on the most incredible journey. It absolutely delivers on giving you the feeling of sitting under the stars, at peace with yourself and the universe.
However, it’s night and there is a chill in the air. The track slowly metamorphoses into something with a little bit of darkness around the edges. A soft guitar melody plays along in the background to the sounds of wonder before out of nowhere and quite unexpectedly, it hits hard.
Transformed into an atmospheric black metal style song, it’s exceptionally good but of course is far from the last overhaul this track will have.
Around about the 21 minute mark, we drop into ominous melody that sounds like a warning of things to come. The night sky is no longer comforting and the chill in the air is cutting deep. It builds and builds and builds until we can almost stand it no longer before erupting in horrid fuzziness that claws at the brain matter. Again, just when it seems as though it’s getting too much, Evergreen Refuge halts it all to go back to soft and slow melody. Truly outstanding and we’re only at the 30 minute mark.
More flashes of intensity and vehemence, more extraordinary mellowness and even more atmospheric heaviness continues to make Skyward required listening. It might be over an hour long but it doesn’t feel it at all.
As we reach the 53 minute mark, it seems as though it might be drawing to a close. The haunting and troubling sounds disappearing one by one until we’re left with nothing but a rhythmic thump and tin-whistle. Together, they combine to relax the mind and create a sense of peacefulness that you wouldn’t expect.
Only when the thump is left and the sound of wind picks up does it become clear that Evergreen Refuge aren’t done yet. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so peaceful as the beat increases in and other elements come back in. Leading to a final few minutes of tortured fuzz and screeching feedback before morose acoustic guitars wrap things up.
Wow. Simply wow.
Evergreen Refuge – Full Track Listing:
Evergreen Refuge - Skyward (A Moment of Clarity Records)
The Final Score - 10/10