Vermont trio Barishi—Graham Brooks (guitar/vocals), Dylan Blake (drums/percussion), and Jonathan Kelley (bass)—have always delivered music in its most gruff, deceptively simple, and entrancing form. Packing together the brutal growls and repetitious riffs of black metal, the dingy timbres and grooves of sludge metal, and the intricacies and disparities of progressive and folk metal, their compositions are mesmerizingly monotonous in ways that few of their peers ever match. Luckily, their latest LP, Old Smoke, is likely their greatest effort yet in that respect. By no means groundbreaking or especially diverse, the sequence nonetheless sucks you in instantly and never lets up, offering just enough variation and ruthlessness to keep you fixated on what’ll happen next.
Old Smoke marks the debut of Barishi as a trio since former singer Sascha Simms left after 2016’s Blood from the Lion’s Mouth. Like many artists in the same situation, they chose to replace him internally rather than find someone new and remain a quartet. Brooks comments (in the official press release):
We tried a few other singers until I ended up grabbing the vocal reins. There weren’t hordes of disappointed fans or protesting crowds of Sascha loyalists . . . so it made it easier to make the sort of identity change that most bands would worry about. Plus, it was hard to find people willing to give up as much as you have to and put in the work to be in a band.
Fortunately, that freedom allowed for the new material to go down a “longer, more exploratory, grandiose, and epic” path that the band compares to the “quest-worthy” nature of classic Iron Maiden. With help from keyboardist Mikey Allred on all but one track (“The Longhunter”), Barishi have indeed crafted a record that often feels more like a hellish cinematic journey than a mere collection of tracks.
At nearly eleven minutes in length, opener “The Silent Circle” does a great job conveying the hypnotically vicious ebbs and flows of Old Smoke. At times, it’s like a heavier and less song-oriented take on Mastodon or Baroness, mixed with touches of Rivers of Nihil and Enslaved. Aside from some soaring guitar notes and faint backing chants about halfway through, there’s little in the way of melodic reprieve or significant deviation. Yet, each movement, while stuck in place for a while, is gripping enough to keep you invested. In other words, it’s the type of circular metal precision that’s easy to get lost in as it builds in the background.
Although much of the LP sticks closely to that formula—which may be a deterrent for some listeners—there are scattered moments that reveal a bit sundry ambition. Specifically, “Blood Aurora” makes strong use of a 1980s-esque metal guitar solo and foreboding acoustic guitar arpeggios. Later, “Cursus Ablaze” takes that latter component and runs with it fully, yielding a sophisticatedly warm yet ethereal arrangement complemented by swirling spectral tones akin to Opeth’s most ghostly passages. Naturally, the closing title track acts as the culmination of all that came before it. It even adds a touch of grungy despair at the start and a sorrowfully rustic and dense aside in the middle that expertly grows back into its former chaos.
Truthfully, Old Smoke would benefit from more range—such as a stronger presence from Allred—so that each song is more individualized. Nevertheless, it’s hard to dislike what’s actually here, as Barishi absolutely nail what they’re going for. Rather than suffer from the line-up loss, the remaining trio are faultlessly synchronized and poised, always playing with a shared vision so that each moment flows organically into the next. If you’re looking for some new metal that’s consistently guttural, fast, and absorbing, Old Smoke will definitely satisfy.