Four years after his last album Blood Vaults – The Blazing Gospels of Heinrich Kramer, german mutli-instrumentalist and vocalist Alexander von Meilenwald returns to make another entry to the discography of his project The Ruins of Beverast. Enter Exuvia, one of the most densely atmospheric albums to come out this year.
“Exuvia” refers to the remains of an exoskeleton, left behind by insects, arachnids or crustaceans (I don’t have to tell you that I had to look this up). It symbolizes growth and shedding the old and insufficient to move on. Much like this, the new Ruins of Beverast album bearing the same name, signifies the emergence of something stronger as well as the start of a new chapter for the band’s sole member Alexander von Meilenwald.
Germany-based The Ruins of Beverast is one of the many noteworthy one-man black metal bands such as Botanist, Panopticon or Leviathan that have supplied us with a whole bunch of daring or simply outstanding releases over the course of their careers. Meilenwald, however, was not new to the genre when he started the project almost 15 years ago as he previously did the drums for german black metal trio Nagelfar (not to be confused with swedish Naglfar).
Nagelfar released three albums between 1997 and 2001 and have since become an insider-tip of the black metal genre. As part of this solo project Meilenwald ended up releasing albums such as Rain Upon the Impure that made a lasting impression on the metal landscape and garnered him a reputation for crafting enchanting atmospheric metal both rooted in traditional black metal and influenced by death and doom metal.
Over the course of the project’s existence, however, the black metal elements have faded by a considerable amount. Whereas Rain Upon the Impure was a blazing tornado of lo-fi riffage and furious blastbeats, albums such as Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite saw Meilenwald embrace much stronger doom metal leanings with layered clean vocals and more elaborate synth-arrangements. The even more radical additions to the modern iteration of the Ruins of Beverast sound were already teased on the Takitum Tootem EP in 2016 and are now fleshed out on Exuvia.
Opening with the title track, the album wastes no time on introducing us to the new Beverast sound, featuring an audio-sample of a chanted mantra that precedes some dreary, psychedelic guitar chords. Exuvia is a hulking composition spanning more than 15 minutes of swelling guitar-riffs and pounding drums, featuring female clean vocals and even some opera singing towards the end of the track.
At all times, the songwriting on Exuvia is extremely fluid, frequently exchanging vocal styles and atmospheric devices as Meilenwald blends slowly marching doom sections with mid-paced death metal and black metal parts with a touch of Rain Upon the Impure. The most violent example of this can be found at the end of the track The Pythia’s Pale Wolves. Following a section with ecstatic female vocals the song shifts into a stomping drumbeat fronted by Meilenwald’s gritty screams. The guitars break loose into furious riffing, propelled by Meilenwald’s signature-style blastbeats. Eerie synths creep in towards the end and drown out the rest of the music. The most outstanding feature used to craft the atmosphere on Exuvia are the bleak, psychedelic guitars that are deployed to great effect and can be found most prominently during the first half of the album.
In contrast, the additional instrumentation and musical experimentation is even more adventurous in the second half, featuring bagpipes, flutes, percussion and even some Summoning-style dungeon synth on the last song of the album, Takitum Tootem (Trance). The highlight of the second half of the album, however, is Towards Malakia (I’ve been told that Malakia is a greek slang-word for masturbation). The song was released to promote Exuvia and features what I consider to be Meilenwald’s most potent and proficient doom metal to date. Starting off with some flutes, shakers and more samples of chanted mantras, backed by unsettling synths the song soon transitions into a section that features what sounds like a sitar, evoking a middle-eastern flair. As the song progresses, Meilenwald introduces a trudging drumbeat fronted by increasingly more elaborate layers of wailing guitars, supported by creepy synths. The track sways for a while as if in a trance before it unleashes the most cathartic black metal section to be found on this album.
Despite how well written and captivating Exuvia is however, it can definitely get a bit overwhelming at times. Meilenwald does a great job of incorporating all the new instruments and influences into his sound but it does end up being a bit too eclectic for its own good, leaving the songs outstanding on their own but a little unfocussed as a full package.
Regardless of that Meilenwald shows exceptional skill in arranging the various aspects of this album. The songs on Exuvia are refreshing and effortlessly fuse new influences with the virtues of previous Ruins of Beverast releases, creating an album that is sinister and murky but also tranquil and meditative. What emerged from this transformation is Meilenwald in his most impressive and creative form, making Exuvia his best album to date that once more solidifies The Ruins of Beverast as one of the most notable projects in modern metal.