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Thief is the solo project of Botanist's Dylan Neal (one of few dulcimer players in the world of black metal). I'm not a fan of Botanist's sound; it's very thin (yeah, it's black metal, I know) and the lack of guitars is noticeable. Moreover, I can't get past the thought that the dulcimer thing is nothing more than a gimmick. Thief holds a lot more promise, however, and sees Dylan melding electronics with alt.rock.

First song proper, 'Frost Breath', sets out the project's stall nicely. Beck-like vocals over scathing processed beats and electronic squelches. It's a much fatter sound than Botanist, as you'd expect for the genre. The addition of Eastern influences adds intrigue. It must be said that the idea of songs must be jettisoned while listening to this. 'Map of Lost Keys' is a series of, sometime meandering, musical passages linked by a narrative concerning religion; not necessarily orthodox, perhaps more of an individual seeking meaning through faith and their interpretation of otherworldly/celestial interactions. I honestly can't decipher the concept, but it's an interesting read nonetheless. Of course, religion is a linchpin in music, so this is nothing new. However, the combination of lyrics that are mysterious and very much open to interpretation, with music that could very well be a glimpse of what hymns might sound like a hundred years from now, gives the album a great sense of grandeur, not to mention cohesiveness. If you can imagine a combination of Martin Grech and '06:21:03:11 Up Evil'-era Front 242, you won't be wide of the mark. The sonic palette is abrasive when Dylan needs to convey chaos, almost to the point of being headache inducing, before passages collapse to the sound of reverb-drenched choirs (given an eerie/foreboding quality), or gentle synths, when the mood needs to be re-balanced. It's highly effective and ensures you're constantly on-edge waiting to see how each song develops. Closing song 'Spirit Archery' bows the experience out on what is likely the most commercial track on the album (albeit at a radio-unfriendly seven and a half minutes in length). The gentle intro lurches into a Sprechgesang-driven theme that is close to 'Mezzanine'-era Massive Attack and dominates the majority of the song.

This type of music isnít going to satisfy metal fans who aren't used to venturing out of their comfort zones. Those, though, who don't bemoan the likes of Ulver transitioning, will find plenty to love here. And, while Ulver are prominent heroes of the genre, forging their own path and ensuring creative control is maintained, Thief could soon be mentioned in similar hallowed breath.
Review by Steve Cowan
26th July 2019
1) Vesper
2) Frost Breath
3) Pyromancy
4) Desert Djinn
5) Holy Regicide
6) With Love, From Nihil
7) Unsafe
8) Gouging Out a Cave in Empty Sky
9) Without a Master
10) Spirit Box
11) Spirit Archery
"...while Ulver are prominent heroes of the genre, forging their own path and ensuring creative control is maintained, Thief could soon be mentioned in similar hallowed breath."