(Our Norwegian contributor Gorger, who usually embarrasses and rewards us by identifying releases that flew under our radar, brings us a year-end list divided into three parts, with this being the first. To find more of his reviews, type “Gorger” in our search bar and visit Gorger’s Metal.)
So, then. Here we fucking are. Committing a closure of 2016.
It’s the dawn of 2017. Blinded by the cold light of January, we’re standing on the threshold of what may turn out to be a mighty tower or just another deadly cliff in the fog. Halfway ignorant of what lies ahead, though parts of the path are visible, it feels safer to turn around and behold what is left behind.
One would think you guys were fed up with lists by now, but you’re an enduring pack of bloodthirsty wolves, and if it’s any consolation, the traditional list-mania is nearing its demise. Is this the grand finale, perhaps? I initially wrote that “my list is too long to comment on everything without cutting it into fitting slices, which I will consider doing next year”. This just proves what a naive schmuck I am. Obviously, I couldn’t help myself, and walked straight into the “comment everything” trap regardless of strategy and determination, and I eventually had to send the first part to Islander before we hit April, or something.
Let’s start with a bunch of “good, but not entirely superb” albums. They might be better than traditional “honorable mentions”, but placing them in a particular order based on all those subjective (and partially objective) factors is a seemingly hopeless task. Thus we abide by the alphabet for now, and I’m stealing Andy’s way of linking you to Bandcamp (where possible) or other sources of sound.
• Abbath – Abbath
You know this guy, but what surprised me was the diversity and his ability to not just walk the well-worn path of Immortal. Not that Immortal sounds trite to me.
•Abduction – Une Ombre Régit Les Ombres
A manic depressive album, suffering from dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple/split personality), alternating schizophrenically between soothing moods of forest-clad sceneries and sharp, explosive intensity.
• Ars Veneficium – The Reign of the Infernal King
Like black smoke from the tires fire, this Belgian black metal fills the chamber with choking black nerve gas and rumbling fury that makes the room shake, and its foundations to creak ominously at the seams. It’s a bestial, frenetic, and unvarnished inferno of foul contempt.
• Be’lakor – Vessels
Among the elite when it comes to melody-fronted semi-extremity with both quiet, melancholic passages, elements of acoustic instrumentation, and harder sequences with rapid, throttling ministrations. This is music with depth, substance, and one alluring melodic gem after the other. Despite the unpredictably abrupt transitions, it flows oh-so naturally.
• Blood Incantation – Starspawn
The Colorado band plays death metal with a rich display of accessories. The band’s ill-fated assault on the eardrums is of a kind that simply can’t be explained by the genre designation alone. That “little” extra not only separates the band from the masses, it also tastes wonderfully transcendental when the Americans embark on a slightly different deadly astral travel. Why did I put this release in this section? Damn, this list-thing is so damned hard.
• Deathcult – Beasts of Faith
At last the undead Swiss rise from their respective coffins to declare their morbid and rabid sepulchral death metal in its most deranged fashion. Now succumb to the cult of the crypt.
• Der Rote Milan – Aus der Asche
This German sextet got a few Stellar Master Elite members in their midst, and play cold, gloomy, and aggressive black metal, with hints of pagan love for nature. They melt good melodies, marked by the adversity of the adversary and by courage and determination, as well as hostile and violent variation.
• Fausttophel – Sancta Simplicitas
A vital melodic fusion of black metal and death metal, spiced with piano, poetry, and orchestral elements. Melodious and melodyless sequences mingle naturally as the Russians let calm and raging parts rub shoulders effortlessly.
• Forteresse – Thèmes pour la Rébellion
Métal de Noir, yet richer in sound and more bombastic and belligerent in expression. The combination of fuming jet black metal and burning sound constitutes a red-hot storm that burns and chars everything in its way. Much like a nuclear sonic test explosion in urban areas.
• Grimness – A Decade of Disgust
Grimness is an Italian black metal band consisting of members with experience from bands like The Foreshadowing, Novembre, Hour Of Penance, Vidharr, Aborym, and Eyeconoclast. A Decade of Disgust can be considered just as much a re-release of their debut and the first EP, with bonus material, as a compilation. Does that count as an album? Do I give a shit? Does the pope shit in the woods?
• Harm – October Fire
These Norwegian thrash-maniacs are surrounded by a frenetic whiff of death and a black-scorched halitosis of sulfur, much like a drunken aura of blood and gore. They might not be original, nor intricate and sophisticated, but they’re pumping out adrenaline-fueled energy and aggression that oozes metal whilst hurling out harsh riffs, hefty rhythms and transitions, delightfully morbid solos, massive punch, a genuine dose of murderous mood, and furious exterminating anger.
• The Infernal Sea – The Great Mortality
Regardless of the controversy, I decided to include The Great Mortality, but due to the disagreements (technically, it was released in 2015 after all), it only gets an honorable mention. Most of you probably know this album very well by now, but what the hell. This black/death, commemorating the Black Death, also incorporates a lot of melody, without deviating an inch in punch and mercilessly grotesque discomfort. The melodies have, to a great extent, an utterly delightful creepy and ominous touch accompanied by musical diversity and meticulous structuring that permeates the songs. They form a cohesive whole, but pretty much all eight tracks retain strong independent identity.
I see that some albums have been put in the wrong category, now that the haze of New Year’s hangover, with one’s nerves worn on the sleeve, is finally about to fade out. With sweating, freezing, a thumping headache and a rioting heart-rate fresh in memory, I just want to finish this madness without caving in. Just like vomit is yesterday’s drinks, I’m getting dizzy by regurgitating yesterday’s records.
I was thinking about garnishing this list by putting some bullshit between, say, every ten releases or so. Magnificent poems, hilarious jokes, reflective contemplations, and adequate anecdotes. Various thoughts, only more succinct than those verbose theses of Andy. I had a bunch of swell ideas, but then the effect of the weed wore off. Oh, well.
• Insane Vesper – LayiL
French Insane Vesper perform black metal a bit on the side of the most orthodox direction. The melodies have some of the vitality found in pagan and folkloric black metal, but without the same underlying folk inspirations. Monotony is a foreign word. Stormy clouds of lightning overlie a sizzling primordial soup of lava and boiling mud. Instruments dance like wild intoxicated witches around the bone fire. Dank darkness, aggression, and an ominous feeling of lurking danger reign. Highly satisfying to absorb and easy to recommend.
• Killing For Company – House of Hades
Norwegian Killing For Company perform death metal a bit on the side of the most orthodox direction. What do you mean “repeating myself”? The expression is airy, the instruments so clear and dynamic that they almost take a 3-dimensional form in my mind. Something sludgy and doomy this way comes to create an idiosyncratic sound
• Narvik – Ascension to Apotheosis
These Germans balance between atonal, cold, dystopic and conventional black metal with a trifle of depression. Playful guitar-based peculiarities also borrow a bit from odd kaleidoscopic landscapes. An inherent post-metallic monotony feels like putting a hedgehog in a gray plastic bag; contours of spines will shine brightly through, and eventually perforate the bag and leave their mark. With steady rhythmic progression and a fairly tangled multitude of melodies and asymmetrical guitar passages, delightful drive is created.
• Nifrost – Motvind
In between vast fjords and majestic mountains, a new ensemble has taken shape in the wake of Windir’s folkloric Sogna-metal. Their songs not as idiosyncratic as their forefather, but still grandiose and dynamic as their alternation between sequences of intensity, mid-tempo, or toned down expression works perfectly, along with providing a rich and prominent bass. The songs have the drift and progress of rough waters when springtime forces snow to melt in the mountains.
• Phazm – Scornful of Icons
Scornful of Icons floats and drifts like a Viking ship between melodic mid-tempo black and death, a bit like Bloodthorn’s penultimate album, with hints of Moonsorrow and Amon Amarth. The music has an airy feel, with room for clear melodies, while preserving brutality and punch, where the harsh smell of gigantic mountain trolls, drunk on high-octane, dominate. Very good variation and vast details within each song make for a delightfully diverse album.
• Purgatory – Ωmega Void Tribvnal
German Purgatory have been operating for over 20 years, and this is their eighth full-length album. And yes, these guys play unsullied death metal with punch and thrust. There’s no denying, though, that the death-mongers hold a somewhat scorched approach. (The word “blackened” is apparently off-limits.) Heavy as an aircraft carrier, and explosive as its projectiles, whilst containing melodic and rhythmic hooks, mighty and dark moods, and powerful sound that pulverizes the majority.
• Reptilian – Perennial Void Traverse
Want more good old frothing and rabid Autopsy-styled morbid, youthful death metal madness? This sounds like four armed maniacs with swamp fever running ’round in a constant state of complete trance-like delirium. The guitars spread black voodoo magic. The mesmerizing effect of hypnotizing riffs and primitive drumming on hollow tree trunks and abandoned tortoiseshells echoes through the jungle. Malaria and lack of knowledge of what kind of mushrooms to stay the fuck away from seem to have driven the poor hysteric vocalist utterly insane. A few otherworldly vibes are added to their ethereal requiem for good measure.
• Rimfrost – Rimfrost
If you have a penchant for Battles in the North and At the Heart of Winter, Rimfrost is a very nice substitute when you need new songs to revel in. The band don’t just offer identity theft, though. Rimfrost have a well-developed flair for melodies themselves, and they present a high-quality soundtrack for crossing hazardous mountain passes and hunting orcs in ancient Dwarf mines.
• Sheidim – Shrines of the Void
Although Shrines of the Void could have been a lost recording between Watain’s Casus Luciferi and Sworn to the Dark, the riffs are as inventive and diverse as it gets. The soaring, hypnotic guitars, the highly competent rhythms, and the coarse, yet quite clearly articulated, vocals and clever structural creativity, create an endless downward spiral. With atmospheric moods from beyond the underworld, and masterful sound that suits all the rest to the fullest, Sheidim distinguish themselves.
• Spire – Entropy
Doomy and otherworldly black metal of a hellish kind is what these Australians offer. At times with ethereal vibes, coma-inducing hallucinogenic ambient segments, and hypnotic powers. Occasionally like the sound of the marching hordes of hell, with anguished cries of lost souls pouring liquid nitrogen in the bloodstream. On Entropy, melody and dissonant instrumentation go hand in hand while hovering over dystopic landscapes.
• Temisto – Temisto
A macabre and enchanting morbid plunge into graceful eerie and hypnotic disgust with deadly black magic of another world. The Swedes blend their abominable enigmatic labyrinth of belligerent riffs with shady black alchemy and crazed dissonant landscapes, where natural musical rules cease to exist. Their seething disgust and completely demented appearance can leave you with dyspnea. Still, when they calm down, a vista of beautiful and evocative ethereal nature reveals itself. But beware, even this is often an ominous and carnivorous dystopian vision.
• Temple of Evil – The 7th Awakening
NCS tipped me off about these Cypriots, and there’s likely much more on my list that can be traced back hitherto. The black metal band has a dramatical approach where melodies are gloomy and hostile. As swirling poltergeists, vital guitars play a main role, even if they are not alone to shine. A dazzling debut of evil spirited moods, occult undertones, and great drift. Just lean back as the high priest invokes the devil.
• True Black Dawn – Come The Colorless Dawn
Not a lot of activity has resulted in releases from the camp of this 25-year-old Finish black metal cult. Nevertheless, they’re back with hell-scorched black metal that smells like burnt Styrofoam. Two guitars complement each other with gloomy riffing and haunted melodies, giving a terrifying touch, while the singer sounds like he’s suffering from severe pain as he screams like the possessed. This is scary, unholy, misanthropic, and resounding black metal.
• Urgehal – Aeons in Sodom
When vocalist and guitarist Trondr Nefas passed away in May 2012, the band was immediately dissolved. He left behind some new material that the band has decided to complete and release as a last salute. His final legacy makes up approximately half of Aeons in Sodom, while guitarist Enzifer has written the remainder. O damned soul, rejoice in this infamous sulfur-reeking memorial, packed with depraved hymns of true and foul Norwegian black metal!
• Vainaja – Verenvalaja
Vainaja appeared on many a year-end-list with Kadotetut in 2014. The leaden material of Verenvalaja has not been spotted on as many lists.
It’s a more oppressive and claustrophobic album, reveling in frantic dystopian discomfort. The confined feel of stuffy, rotten, and stale air, a feeling of being buried alive, is still studded with black emeralds. Brimful of intricate, anguished rhythms, different bass-themes and ethereal frequencies, deep, yet soaring guitar leads that float like repelling magnetic poles somewhere between the atonal and the melodic. The vocals gargle with cement and spit coagulated blood with deep grunts.
I’ll be back with one or two more parts, all depending on how good I am at keeping it short.