(Andy Synn presents a trio of album reviews.)
Now I’m sure you all know by now just how much I love Black Metal, in all its many and varied forms. Whether it’s the grime-soaked grooves of Horned Almighty… the blast-furnace assault of 1349… the harrowing sonic rituals of Enthroned… the grim grandeur of Secrets of the Moon… the riff-packed assault of Nidingr… the mesmerising madness of Dødsengel… the ambient anguish of Leviathan… whether it’s “Old School”, “Second Wave”, “Progressive”, “Post”… to me the very essence of the style is its simple refusal to be restricted or limited by the expectations and pressures of others, and the insistence of those who perform under the black banner on doing things their own way, no matter the consequences.
Of course there are stylistic elements that these bands all share– for all its growth and constant opposition between progressive and regressive forces, Black Metal IS still a distinct (though wide-ranging) genre – and yet there are still bands who seem, on the surface of things, to utilise most of the right sonic elements, but whom I still struggle to really think of as “Black Metal” all the same.
I’m a big fan of both Vattnett Viskar and Wildernessking for example, yet on both their latest albums they’ve shown a level of growth and development that seems to have led them, naturally and organically, to a point where using the term “Black Metal” to describe their music simply doesn’t seem to fit right – though I’m not sure I can precisely articulate why that is.
Similarly, as much as I really do like the first Deafheaven album (and I’m not afraid to admit it either) these days they strike me more as a band aiming to be “Black Metal for people who don’t like Black Metal” – neutered and gelded into a semblance of respectability for a very specific audience. And no amount of third-hand tremolo riffs and angst-ridden yelling is likely to convince me otherwise.
And yet I still love the genre for its variety. Sometimes it seems like there’s nowhere else that I could find bands as strikingly different as Vindensång, Tsjuder, and The Axis of Perdition coexisting (albeit, sometimes contentiously) within the same strange, non-Euclidean space.
So in the spirit of celebrating the diversity (or is that a dirty word?) of the genre, here’s three albums that each represent a different facet of the genre in their own particular… idiom.
DELUGE – ÆTHER
I’ve seen Æther described – in both features and reviews — using the ever-provocative “Post-Black Metal” descriptor, and although this certainly fits them to an extent (as there’s definitely a wealth of gloriously evocative atmospheric parts present on this album), from the moment that the ferocious “Avalanche” kicks in with a veritable torrent of blasting, trem-picked power, it’s clear that, despite what fears and forebodings that term may conjure, Deluge are definitely Black Metal through and through.
As an opener, “Avalanche” serves as a perfect introduction to the band’s sound, a full-force, storm-lashed barrage of blackened vitriol and spectral melody – somewhat reminiscent of underground heroes Der Weg Einer Freiheit at their most ferocious – all wrapped tightly around a void-like core of echoing ambience, and topped off with some astonishingly vicious vocals that eschew the standard cadaverous scream in favour of a more biting, Hardcore-influenced “bark”.
Follow-up “Appats” keeps the energy high, unleashing a deluge (pun firmly intended) of writhing riffs and rippling blasts, laced with hypnotic threads of gleaming melody, while the slow-burn build-up of “Melas I Khole” eventually erupts into a veritable supernova of blazing blackened strife before dropping back into haunted, ethereal ambience for its bleakly beautiful conclusion.
This ebb and flow, between raging fury and chilling, contemplative calm, continues throughout the album’s nine stellar tracks, effortlessly mixing and melding the elemental fury of booming, monolithic riffs, lightning-fast tremolo parts, and thunderous percussive power, with extensive passages of haunting melancholy.
Whether it’s the thrilling dynamic convulsions of “Houle”, or the epic instrumental strains of “Klartraumer”, or the sheer earth-shaking power of “Vide”, every track is a bombardment of scything blackened riffs, crashing chords, and keening, reverb-drenched harmonies, all brought to stunning life by the album’s incredibly powerful, yet crystal-clear production job
Closing out with the deadly beauty of “Hypoxie”, with its near-perfect marriage of metallic power and sorrow-drenched melody (including a gorgeously evocative piano-led mid-section), and the climactic catharsis of “Briune”, Æther is one of those albums that positively demands an instant re-play, just so you can immerse yourself even deeper in the gleaming and glistening waves of pain and anguish that resonate from your speakers as you push play.
And although it certainly bears some elements in common with the cutting-edge, Prog/Black Metal attack of both Agrypnie and Der Weg Einer Freiheit, the pure vitality and near-fanatical fervour the band display allow them to seize hold of their sound and make it completely and undeniably their own, from start to finish, channelling equal parts rage and melancholy into a torrential blackened cascade of quicksilver hooks and raging dynamics.
Chalk this one up as another stunning surprise for me, in a year that just keeps on giving.
HORNA – HENGEN TULET
This one should need no introduction really, as the name Horna is legend… though not in the terrible, Will Smith way.
No, these godless Finns have been spreading their foul sonic seed now for over 20 years, and are as prolific as they are perverted, spitting out an endless stream of splits, EPs, and albums over the course of their career.
Their last album, 2013’s Askel lähempänä Saatanaa, was a personal favourite of mine (though I know that’s not the most popular opinion with some people), so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to dive into Hengen Tulet… I’m just sorry that it’s taken so long!
Right from the start, as the rampaging “Amadriada” kicks in at a scorching pace, you’ll come to realise that this is the same unwavering, unflinching Black Metal assault that Horna have always dealt in, built around filthy, bone-gnawing riffs, frenetic, splattering blast-beats, and brackish, grime-soaked grooves.
This time ’round, however, there’s perhaps a shade more melodic menace flickering in and out of corporeality amidst the chaotic clamour and clatter of tracks like the menacing slow-burn of “Nekromantia” and the insidiously aggressive and confrontational “Saatanalle” (particularly during its truly monstrous finale), while the scarred and strangled vocals of Spellgoth (now on his second album with the band) ripple with a new level of confidence and vengeful, primal ferocity.
The band also have a few other tricks up their sleeve, such as the doleful organ intro to the Black-Thrash attack of “Puhdas”, the surprising (and shameless) punked-up energy of “Sodan Roihu”, and the doomy crawl of “Hurmos”, all of which help add a dash of variety to the album, without ever stepping too far away from the group’s core sound
There’s an all-too-easily thrown-around phrase used by a lot of bloggers, to the effect that “[Band X] are like the AC/DC of…”, which is of course shorthand for saying that the band in question don’t ever change or develop their sound. And while this is certainly true of the foul Finns and their blasphemous invective, this doesn’t mean they’re stuck in a rut or doomed to repeat themselves. No, it’s more that the music of Horna is timeless, in its own special way.
As a result Hengen Tulet is as grim and gritty and gruesome as anything in the band’s ever-expanding catalogue of aural horrors, and demonstrates that the band can still deliver the goods, even as they keep on digging deeper into the muck and mire.
REGARDE LES HOMMES TOMBER – EXILE
Much like the aforementioned Deluge, this French quintet are often tagged with the ambiguous “Post Black Metal” marker, though whereas the former unleash their fury and anguish in gleaming waves of power and pain, Regarde les Hommes Tomber offer up a far earthier, more tactile sound, where the “Post-“ that’s so often attributed to them might as well stand for “Post-Apocalyptic”.
If you’ve been looking for something to provide a similar array of raw and ravaged soundscapes as the late-lamented Altar of Plagues (circa White Tomb/Mammal), then look no further. Regarde les Hommes Tomber have the fix you’ve been craving.
This should be obvious immediately from bleak and emaciated opener “L’Exil”, which begins to build slowly but surely in strength and stature, before erupting in the creeping avalanche of sound and fury that is “A Sheep Among the Wolves”, where venom-drenched guitar lines whirl and whisper amongst a vortex of quaking drums and savage howls of pure anguish.
Again, in a similar manner to their countrymen above, although the negative connotations of the “Post Black Metal” marker might put some people off, there’s never any question in my mind that Regarde les Hommes Tomber are Black Metal to the marrow of their warped and cancerous bones. The sheer blind spite and vitriol of “Embrace the Flames” and the scorched-earth desolation of “Thou Shall Lie Down” are testament enough to that.
And yet the brooding, doom-encrusted layers of atmosphere that shroud the album are just as undeniable. The two-part “They Came… / …To Take Us”, for example, is simultaneously as awe-inspiringly bleak and gloriously powerful as anything I can think of, a roiling cauldron of pure elemental chaos channelled into a singular apocalyptic auditory hallucination.
Even this, though, almost pales when compared to the cataclysmic finale of “The Incandescent March”, where sombre, entropic pseudo-melodies clash up against scalding, distorted riffs and bone-rattling drums in one catastrophic vision of our bleak, forsaken future. It makes for an absolutely riveting climax to the record, and practically leaves you out of breath once it’s finally done having its wicked way with you.
Exile is a profound testament to why you should never underestimate how much a well-crafted sense of atmosphere can add to your record. As furious and undoubtedly heavy as this record is (and it surely is, when Regarde les Hommes Tomber go, they go hard…), it’s made tenfold heavier by the sheer weight of atmosphere and ominous, soul-crushing dread that insinuates itself into every single track.