In the mood for raw black metal? Israeli black metallers SREFA will soon release their album Solstice, and the album offers a refreshing and well-produced revival of the genre that maintains the very essence of its pioneers (while leaving behind the worst of it).

The album starts off with Ensnared And Conquered. The raw yet clear mix invites listeners to pay attention to how each element produces the overall sound. Noteworthy is the commanding presence of the bass, a rarity in the genre. A slow blast beat propels the track forward, while haunting interludes offer brief respites from the abyss. The terrifying vocals, coupled with the organic, old-school sound, culminate in an intense finale.

A Dream, Never Ending beckons with a slower pace, leveraging atmospheric guitar arpeggios. Clean vocals pierce through the darkness, accompanied by a rhythmic drum pattern that is accentuated by the guitars. When the blast beats come in, they offer an interesting contrast with guitars that maintain a pattern in octaves. The voice is again guttural and heartbreaking through to the end. The juxtaposition of melodic interludes and guttural cries creates a haunting dreamscape that lingers long after the song fades to silence.

The Unyielding Fear again channels the old school black metal sound, with a faster blast beat-based introduction. Accentuated riffs lead into what appears to be a chorus before leading into a bar where the bass stands alone.Just when it seems the song has reached its ending, a frenetic blast beat thrusts listeners into a faster-paced ending.

A Letter To Self unveils intricate layers of sound, with meticulous attention to detail in the drum work. Stereo spectrum drums pan from right to left, adding more body to the song but leaving the voice present. A standout bass solo creates a shift in tempo, unleashing a torrent of aggression and intensity. This track, one of two personal favourites, showcases the band’s mastery of dynamics and musical complexity.

At the album’s mid-point, Misdiagnosis has a slow entry with toms, bass, and vocals, but there’s something different about this one. The song ventures into uncharted territory, with haunting organ-like synths adding depth to the bleak landscape. The interplay between guitar and bass creates a mesmerizing rhythm, complemented by vocals that display raw emotion. Dynamic shifts between blast beats and rhythmic patterns keep listeners on edge. The bass line generally keeps things simple to complement other elements. Vocals have a more rhythmic quality to them, following patterns in a way that are uncharacteristic of this subgenre. It’s a welcome distinction. This is the longest track of the album at 7:41, and it felt like an appropriate length. It wasn’t dragged out, changes were well-timed, and the song had surprisingly melodic pieces incorporated.

The album’s sixth track, The One I Could Have Been, begins with a slow splash on hi-hats and a clean guitar arpeggio, giving the listener a brief reprieve. A floor tom announces a change, and the song clears some space for the bass, vocals, and sixteenth notes on the drums that transform into and old school blast beat. Later on, the song returns to a half-tempo beat with more an engaging bass line that almost sounds bluesy – it supports the voice very nicely. Intricate bass lines intertwine with relentless drumming, forming a foundation for the haunting moments of calm juxtapose with bursts of frenetic energy, creating a sense of profound introspection. This song was another clear album highlight, both in terms of the introduction and the overall track.

The Chase ensnares listeners with its eerie synth melodies and discordant bass lines, evoking a sense of impending doom. Despite its relentless pace, the track maintains a sense of dissonance, with the bass carving its own path amidst the chaos. As the song reaches its climax, complex drum patterns and haunting vocals converge to creating a deeply haunting atmosphere. The song stays true to its title, feeling like a slow-building chase.

Relapse brings the album to a haunting conclusion, returning in the introduction to a classically old school black metal sound. Seemingly dubbed vocals add an unsettling layer of depth. This is the only track where this seemed to be evident. There’s a long space with a focus on double bass and cymbals that propel the track forward, while open chords and ominous bass lines create a sense of foreboding. As the song builds to its climax, a drum fill and blast beat announces the change and accompanies the bass.

Although the first minutes do not seem to have anything fully distinct from what we have heard before, it features plenty of exciting changes and dynamics that keep the listener hooked. It has an excellent mix, preserving the raw style of the old black but with a very good equalization and remarkable clarity. The vocal work is magnificent, with great execution and well produced, as if recorded through a small Marshall amplifier. The guitars have a quality sound that utilizes old school distortion effects, but with a more audibly pleasant quality. It isn’t as raw and aggressive to the ear, but rather has a dark and clean effect.

The drums are precise and dynamic, but without being over-produced or over-compressed, something that the mix allows you to appreciate wonderfully, every note is present, from the double bass drum, the blast beats to the arrangements on the cymbals. While absolutely everything is worth listening to on this album, the bass work is undoubtedly a central protagonist here. For both the mix and the musical components, the bass is the rhythmic and melodic support at all times.

Articulate and present beneath a warm layer of frequencies, the mix is intended to mimic the recording style of early black metal. Each element is surprisingly audible and well-produced, allowing the listener to appreciate everything as a whole. Nothing sounds too harsh in terms of frequency, but it’s still relentless and haunting – as black metal rightfully should be.

If you ever wondered what black metal might sound like in 2024, this is the album to fulfil your curiosity. Staying true to the essence of the subgenre’s early days, SREFA‘s Solstice take on an atmospheric, raw quality that brings a revival to the genre. Highly recommended!

Angela Ambrose