Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. For many, there’s a certain superficial form that things take which universally qualifies them as beautiful. Or, at least, that’s what society and the people who move it would like us to believe. Look past the surface, and suddenly consensus goes right out the window regardless of any outside influence. Deeper, more meaningful qualities elicit a wider variety of opinions and reactions, depending on each person’s set of values, principles, and philosophies. For me, it is those qualities that lie beneath the surface of Swedish atmospheric black metal duo Lightlorn’s debut LP, At One with the Night Sky, that occupy my thoughts today.
Beautiful and melodious in equal measure, At One with the Night Sky occupies that stratospheric space where the most ethereal atmoblack resides, evoking more faithfully the ebullient tones of Skyforest and Deafheaven than the tumultuous desperation of Mare Cognitum. Delicate twinkling effects and peaceful dalliances with cosmic ambiance characteristic of Skyborne Reveries further embellish Lightlorn’s high-flying approach. At the same time, At One with the Night Sky is forlorn in its own wistful way, creating a curious tonal duality that works strangely well in this application. Trem-picked leads take the forefront across the entire expanse, gently rolling across scales at an unhurried pace while galloping double bass and energetic blasts explode underneath. Riffs and other high-octane rhythms don’t feature, making this fifty-minute trance one of repose and meditation. While many—myself included—would likely agree that these qualities unite to form something aesthetically pleasing and effortless to enjoy, I caution listeners to expect very little depth to give that beauty a meaningful sense of weight. If there was ever a metal album geared towards light listening, At One with the Night Sky is it.
Light listening is not something commonly pursued in the metal world, and by that coin, Lightlorn’s floaty debut garners some real merit. Many, if not all, of its constituent songs offer gorgeous melodies as the hero flavor, affecting and effective as mood pieces ideal for a chill listening session with some good headphones and a starry night sky. “Amongst Stellar Remains,” “Tragedy in Starlight,” “Ghostly Soliloquies,” “Of Longing Spirit and Infinite Solitude,” and “Earthbound” all stand out in that regard, despite their neighbors sharing the same songwriting platform. Without their ability to immerse me in their soaring flight through vibrant nebulas of sound, At One with the Night Sky’s highlights would drag on for ages. Yet, they float by in the blink of an eye. Even the record’s weakest songs benefit thusly from the songwriting’s fluidity. In turn, the whole affair flies with a complete disregard for the laws of time, a feat of songwriting rarified in this field.
On the other hand, almost nothing of this album makes a lasting impression after the last note rings into the void. At One with the Night Sky’s pacing and structure is so relentlessly consistent that without actively observing the tracklist, nothing distinguishes one song from any other. I could rearrange these seven songs in whatever order I wish and the album would sound and feel exactly the same. Exacerbating this total lack of songwriting dynamics, a sense of boredom becomes the dominant impression left by repeat spins. Immersive though the music is—especially on the surface level—there’s very little to discover with time. After a very short while, it feels like I’ve orbited the galaxy a hundred times already, I’ve seen that nebula pass by me over and over, and there’s nothing left to look forward to besides the merciful conclusion of superficially gorgeous closer “Earthbound.”
I would love to tell you that Lightlorn offered a fresh, vibrant take on the atmospheric black metal format. I pine for the privilege to praise At One with the Night Sky for pushing the boundaries of a genre hell-bent on regurgitating “moods” and “vibes” until the heat death of the Earth. But I can’t. This debut shows some potential, and it is undoubtedly an effortlessly beautiful album to listen to when the setting’s right. Underneath that glossy surface, however, is an empty shell. Pretty, but soulless.