You can tell a lot about a band by the way they choose to kick off an album. Knowing that, it’s plain to see that Izthmi, an American black metal band from Seattle, Washington, is absolutely fearless. Instead of jumping right into the electric riffs, punishing drums or ear splitting shrieks, Izthmi delivers a hefty dose of power electronics for nearly three minutes while a quiet synth hovers in the background. No, it never quite reaches the level of violence that Merzbow, Prurient or Pharmakon might, but it sets the tone for what is already shaping up to be one of the most memorable American black metal releases of the year.
If one were tasked to define what makes The Arrows of Our Ways so compelling, it would likely result in a thousand answers. But for my money, what Izthmi does so successfully on this record is blend flashiness with emotional impact. Bands of all stripes have often sacrificed one for the other, but Izthmi splits it right down the middle. Each song, barring the intro “CHASM” has a moment that exemplifies this, but my favorite is on the second track “TO TRAIPSE ALONE…” where the guitars suddenly explode into an emotionally potent solo around the halfway mark of the track. What stands out is that they don’t slow the song down until after this moment has passed, but the emotional impact is still striking. The guitar wails, singing to you in a way that wouldn’t be out of place if it were being played by Santana himself. Mere moments later you’re thrust back into chugging riffs. In the hands of a lesser band, this could come as tonal whiplash, but Izthmi understands that sadness, rage and grief are all part of the same emotional pyramid and flip between them accordingly.
Since 2013, it’s become mandatory for anyone discussing American black metal or post black to invoke Deafheaven. I don’t wish to rehash the same tired arguments surrounding that band, but it’s clear that they have had some influence on Izthmi’s song structures. One need look no further than the album highlight, “A SHOUT THAT BURSTS THROUGH THE SILENCE OF UNMEANING,” to see this influence in full force. The soaring guitars and slower sections are unmistakable trademarks of the post-black style, but Izthmi manages to utilize these elements without letting them become stale. Instead they leverage them for their emotional potency, but they crank the intensity beyond that of most post-black artists to deliver a searing album that hits all the right emotional notes.
Given that this is Izthmi’s debut album, they’ve left surprisingly little to criticize. The only potential drawbacks are that a few of the songs don’t do enough to differentiate themselves from another, so it can be easy to get lost in the track listing. Luckily, even the songs that blend together are enjoyable enough that it hardly matters that they aren’t entirely distinct. Additionally, despite opening with “CHASM” a track that borders on noise, and does set the tone for the intensity of the record, they only return to the well of noise once, during the intro of “(THE ANGELS ARE LOST).” It would have been interesting to see where Izthmi would implement further static and feedback into their work a bit more seamlessly.
Though American black metal broke out to massive acclaim with landmark releases from Deafheaven and Liturgy in the early ‘10s, we’ve seen stagnation in the genre and pushback from traditional metalheads against the influx of Brooklynites into their scene. With its blend of force and emotion, Izthmi’s The Arrows of Our Ways presents a middle ground, and ultimately a way forward for the genre. Seeing as how this is only the debut for Izthmi, my mind reels with the endless possibilities they could deliver on future releases, but for now, we shoudl be happy to have this record at all.