German one-man primal black-metal outfit Old Growth has dropped a remarkable debut. The project of a musician who goes by Shaman Animist, Mossweaver is dedicated to the theme of reverence for wilderness, and contains more than an hour of evocative hymns to the unknowable forest that was here before us and will be here long after we go extinct—unless we destroy it first. His tools are high-tech, but at peak fury his sound is primitive and feral. Animist is a black-metal Lorax: he screams for the trees. He reinforces the atmosphere of the music with clean and dreamy passages that provide a framework for the fiercer assaults; imagine the stillness of a foggy, moss-covered grove of ancient trees, where some creature lurks in the shadows (as it does in Old Growth’s video for “Red Clouds”).
Animist not only uses these mood shifts to great advantage but also throws in surprises—including the eerie sound effects in the deceptively calm instrumental “Call of the Night Spirit,” a relatively brief interlude between long, monumental tracks. The nearly nine-minute “The Seedling” has a vibe of pure life force, evoking the struggle to survive and grow tall (which of course most seedlings will not). From my perspective, “Oakenheart” is the center of this album: it speaks of an idyllic way to die, alone in the woods and absorbed back into nature. “I replace my lonesome heart with acorns / The seedling will sprout within my chest / I place two cones of pitch pines in my orbits,” Animist sings. “I will envisage a new world / I witness my last breath vanish into the cold air of the first autumn night.” In the intro, the guitars are sensual and nearly bluesy, before the furor begins and Animist speaks of his weariness, acceptance, and eagerness. Mossweaver relies a bit too much on the clean-intro formula and the fadeout, but overall it’s one of the strongest debuts I’ve heard this year. If the universe has provided a clearer refutation of the man-triumphing-over-nature narrative than it did in 2020, it hasn’t happened in my lifetime, and I’m not young. Old Growth believes we should all aspire to be able to go to sleep forever in a cool forest on a bed of moss, and I frankly cannot disagree with that. v