By the time “blackgaze” had entered the popular indie lexicon thanks to Deafheaven’s Sunbather in 2013, the unlikely concoction of black metal and shoegaze was more than a decade old thanks to several other bands. France’s Alcest may be the band most likely to be mentioned when discussing blackgaze’s history, but Macon, Georgia’s The Angelic Process deserves a prominent spot in that conversation, as well.
The husband/wife duo of Kris Angylus (vocals/guitar/drums) and Monica Henson (bass/vocals) had been creating an extremely atmospheric form of metal (which they dubbed “ambient drone metal”) since at least the early ’00s, and they released five albums during their existence. 2007’s Weighing Souls With Sand was the band’s swan song; Angylus committed suicide in 2008 after a hand injury left him unable to continue playing guitar.
Angylus’ death adds some tragic irony to Weighing Souls With Sand, which is a concept album about the death of a spouse. As you might imagine given that concept, the album’s overarching aesthetic is one of anguish and grief, with the band’s screams subsumed by a torrent of guitars and martial percussion that has as much in common with My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless as it does black metal.
Gloomy opening number “The Promise of Snakes” immediately sets the mood, with murky guitars and tones that give way to chugging riffs, pummeling drums, and vocals slathered in distortion so thick that it obscures the words even as it makes their meaning unmistakeable. But Weighing Souls With Sand is not just one bleak, brutal wall of sound after another.
Other elements work their way into the arrangements to give some much-needed respite and contrast. Examples include the ambient lull in the middle of “The Promise of Snakes,” the fluttering atmospherics that close out “The Resonance of Goodbye,” “Dying in A-Minor“ ‘s woeful ambience and somber guitar soloing, and the vaguely Japanese-sounding melody that winds its way through “Sleepwritten“ ‘s quieter moments.
Intensity, both emotional and musical, is obviously the album’s main attraction; Weighing Souls With Sand is an album that leaves you feeling stronger and more whole for having survived its onslaughts (e.g., the cascade of guitars that erupts during the final minutes of “We All Die Laughing”). But the band’s inclusion of moments of beauty and reflection within the tempest is what makes The Angelic Process’ music so intriguing. And ultimately, what gives it so much emotional resonance.
Originally released by Profound Lore, Weighing Souls With Sand was remastered by James Plotkin and reissued this past September on Burning World Records. Plotkin’s remastering may have cleaned up the album’s sound — as I recall, the original 2007 release was pretty hissy and tinny in places — but it’s done absolutely nothing to diminish the intensity of the duo’s music. If anything, Plotkin’s refining enhances it; the additional clarity makes it easier to appreciate everything that goes on in the duo’s songs, and to be enveloped by it.
Note: If Weighing Souls With Sand’s blend of emotional intensity and sonic brutality leaves you wanting more, Burning World Records previously released We All Die Laughing, a box set that contains all of the music that The Angelic Process released between 2001 and 2007, including the original version of Weighing Souls With Sand.