Trvth is the enigmatic project of multi-instrumentalist Michael Smith. Formerly an umbrella project for Smith’s forays into many genres including ambient, electronic, and post-rock, Trvth was recently distilled down to its black metal roots. This leaves Grief and Justice as the third LP in what’s becoming a solid discography. The basic elements that coalesced in 2013’s acclaimed Black Horse Plague are back: counterpoint tremolo guitar, sparse production, and raspy vocals give Trvth its signature melancholy atmosphere. Here, things are perhaps more focused than ever, as Smith largely forgoes experimentation in favor of a cohesive sound. This proves to be a double-edged sword, as Grief and Justice sounds like the tightly conceptual work it’s meant to be, but the lack of variety doesn’t always support its 66-minute running time.
Smith’s minimalist black metal template sets a desolate mood on his latest collection of tales of longing and woe, further exemplified by its Bathory-esque artwork. There’s a drone element to much of the album, with winding compositions like “Fears” and “In Despair” leaning on Smith’s raspy but intelligible vocals to carry them along. On the rhythm side of things, Smith is generally more conservative. Trvth’s drums are often skeletal and rarely venture beyond basic doom-metal beats, though a double-kick flourish is key to ushering in the album’s climax during “Where I Must Go.” As is the case with successful one-man black metal acts, the upside is a clear vision for each song on the album and its place in the whole. Song lengths tend to sit around seven minutes, with “Torn” representing an energetic and welcome change of pace in the center of the album. Smith also breaks out a more riff-based style, with major-key power chords strongly reminiscent of 80’s Iron Maiden.
The story behind Grief and Justice deals with a man forsaken by his love and cast into psychological and physical squalor. Each song seems to be a step toward redemption and reconciliation, giving the album a momentum that carries it through its occasional doldrums. The imagery throughout is harrowing and integral to the experience; on album highlight “My Feelings,” there’s a poetic fervor in Smith’s opening delivery of “Let the day perish on which I was born.” The music ties closely to the concept, with wandering, spectral lead melodies that often give way to expanses of mournful acoustic guitar. Bass lines weave their way through the middle, showing an unusual willingess to lead when the other instruments take respite. The generally narrow musical pallette – it’s largely mid-paced tremolo riffing or acoustic interludes – does get cumbersome after the middle of the album, though, as “Inside” and “Condemnation” could probably have been trimmed to move things along (a notion further supported by some sloppy timing on the latter track).
Still, the overall impression left by Grief and Justice is of a well-realized story. By the time Smith wraps the album up with a final plea for mercy (“My days are few, leave me alone / I will go away and not return / To lands of gloom, a land of shadow / Where light does not shine”), Grief and Justice feels like a tragic memoir. There is certainly grief, but justice? No; by the album’s conclusion, justice is a concept that has died like a moth on the sole windowsill of our protagonist’s gloomy dungeon. Despite its shortcomings, Grief and Justice works because Smith never loses sight of its essence. Fans of similarly introspective bands such as Thou and Agalloch (Trvth lies somewhere in the ashen plans between black and doom metal) ought to find a satisfying, if exhausting, journey in Grief and Justice.
1. In Despair
2. Companion of Darkness
8. My Feelings
10. Where I Must Go