Black metal, at its best, is the ideal artistic canvas for mystery, shadows, and the unspeakable fears that lurk in us all. If that sounds a little over-the-top, well, that's kind of the point. You don't come here to read about well-mannered adult contemporary music that stirs nothing in anyone. No, you come here to read about albums like this one, the absolute triumph that is One Master's The Names of Power.
One Master's members are domiciled across a few states, but I still feel justified in claiming them for my home state of Connecticut. We only have a few black metal bands as it is (including the also excellent Ritual Clearing), so we have to take our wins wherever we can. And for fans of dark, blistering black metal, this album boasts six winners. According to the band, the subject matter is centered on "the ancient occult idea that if one learns the true name of a deity, access to its power can be obtained, the theme of the album is on the power of language, with each song being focused on its use in a different context: religion, heresy, a cult, solitude, the universe, and modernity."
Each song offers a rich world of entrancing guitars, heavily distorted guitars, and punishing rhythmic assaults that you really could spend an afternoon exploring what the various themes mean to you. "The First Names" is a ferocious opening song, one that successfully captures a religious aura, and would be well-placed in the background of films like 1971's The Devils. But religions all inevitably lead to heresies, just as the first song gives way to "The Forbidden Names," which is definitely the catchiest, most infectious song on the album. This is the song you pump your fists to at the show.
The album contains a pair of longer songs, "The Secret Names" being the first, representing the language of cults. Again, I can't help but think of cinematic comparisons. Next time I watch Eyes Wide Shut, I'm definitely putting this song on when Tom Cruise visits the cult (or maybe the scene when Nicole Kidman gives you that stare). A song of this length comes with risks of boring the listener to tears, but One Master makes it all work so well.
When you pass into "The Solitary Names," you begin to grasp the theme of the album as a consistent narrative thread — or at least I did. After exploring a religion, breaking into a heresy, and joining a cult, there often comes a sense of alienation and exclusion once you no longer feel committed to the dogma and ideology. And so you're left alone, and a lot of anxiety comes with that. That sense of anxiety and racing hearts is well-represented on this song, particularly with the open-down picking of Walder and Black Wolf's guitars.
Oftentimes when we leave a set of beliefs behind, we turn to rationality and the natural world for answers. Thus, we arrive at "The Celestial Names," a song as dazzling and grand as the night sky. Most space-oriented black metal really leaves me flat, but that's definitely not the case here. Still, there's a yearning that planetary exploration and mathematics cannot answer. But we've already been through the other questions, so what do we do? How does one not become cold and cynical in the face of a universe empty of a spiritual dimension? We speak "The Final Names," and evoke the condition of modernity.
While the album explores a variety of themes and emotions, a number of aspects remain consistent. First is Walder's vocal delivery, scorching and haunting as it sermonizes to the listener. Second is the panoply of riffs and grooves on display from the guitar work. And finally is the fully powered punch and smash of drummer Eponymous and bassist Grave Dog. It paints a fascinating sonic picture that guides you through the work and allows you to come to your own conclusions about what the names all mean. I've presented my version here. But how about you?