If you can cast your mind back as far as 2018 (and you are forgiven if you're currently struggling to remember what you had for breakfast), GAEREA released one of the very finest black metal albums of that year, the subtly eccentric "Unsettling Whispers"; released through remarkably consistent Mumbai imprint Transcending Obscurity. If you've heard that record, the fact that the Portuguese were swiftly snapped up by Season Of Mist will make perfect sense, because despite being recognizable as a black metal band of some description, GAEREA conjured a huge amount of their own, unique sense of weirdness and disquiet. Two years on, "Limbo" feels even further away from any standard notions of a left-hand path, with songs that ebb and flow with tectonic surety and a sense of bowing to nature's remorseless grind that frequently feels more Icelandic — echoing the likes of ALMYRKVI and SVARTIDAUDI — than Iberian.
Either way, GAEREA have produced a near-masterpiece here, summoning levels of aggression that we don't normally associate with the artful, atmospheric end of the underground metal spectrum, while also embracing a more widescreen, post-rock-tinged vision, wherein fury is counterbalanced by a whole heap of misty-eyed melancholy. Opener "To Ain" contains all of this and more, veering from ominous ambience to all-out assault with seamless verve, stopping off to march through an avalanche of icily overwrought melodic motifs, the band's unnamed members vigorously willing each other on through every vital change of pace or mood. "Null" is a more succinct variation on the theme, but with a lethal central hook and enough cataclysmic double-kicks to reduce mountains to dust, the song's sonic perversities squirm delightedly in the background, inspirational grist to the unrelenting metallic mill.
Black metal tends to deal in unremitting darkness, and despite those occasional forays into shoegaze or post-rock, "Limbo" is an album that belongs to a lightless and pessimistic world. You can feel the 2020's tensions crackling and twitching amid the blurred savagery of "Glare" and the sprawling "Conspiranoia", and while GAEREA remain cryptic and mysterious to the last, it doesn't take a genius to infer that they might not be the greatest fans of humanity or cheerleaders for mankind's future prospects.
With that in mind, the closing "Mare", all 13 crushing and crestfallen minutes of it, provides the perfect soundtrack to our well-deserved end of days: like a turbocharged and multi-dimensional expansion of all the wicked and warped ideas explored in five previous songs, it's such a brutish whipping away of the cosmic tablecloth that you can expect most of your emotional crockery to be hurled skyward as dissonance is wielded as a weapon of nihilistic exaltation to the eternal void. This year in a grim but gripping nutshell, then. "Limbo" may amount to one, long howl of hopelessness, but it's full of promise and dark magic too.