SHADES OF BLACK: MANTAR, GERM, GRAVDAL, NOX FORMULAE, KASSAD, DISSVARTH
I had originally planned to post this yesterday, to make the Sabbath blacker, but didn’t quite get it finished. I’ve collected five new songs from forthcoming albums and a brief review of an EP released last month. The songs are stylistically diverse — in fact, this is one of those installments of this column where not all of the music is even going to fit the broadest definitions of black metal — yet there is a shared “depressive” quality among many of the songs (and I use the term in a genre sense). And of course I found everything very good and very memorable and hope you’ll enjoy it, too.
As I’ve previously written, Mantar’s new album Ode To the Flame is one of my most eagerly anticipated releases of 2016, both because I thoroughly enjoyed their debut album Death By Burning and because I was so blown away by their live performance at last year’s Maryland Deathfest. A few days ago we got our first full glimpse of the new album via the premiere of a song called “Era Borealis“.
If you’re like me, you’re going to have the chorus stuck in your head for a while. It just begs you to sing along with it, at least in your head, just as the big lumbering, rumbling beat of the mid-paced parts of the song will thump your head. And when the song accelerates, it will get your head nodding, too. It’s a dark, rocking, stripped-down tune, but guitarist/vocalist Hanno’s caustic shrieks put a knife edge under your throat, so be careful about your head movements.
Ode To the Flame will be released by Nuclear Blast on April 15.
I must thank my Norwegian friend eiterorm for making me aware of this next song. It’s the first advance track from Escape, the new album by Germ, which is now the main musical project of the tremendously talented Australia musician Tim Yatras (Woods of Desolation, Austere, Grey Waters).
This is another album that should have been on my list of eagerly anticipated 2016 releases, but until I learned of this song I didn’t even know it was on the way, and in fact it seems to have been recorded in the late summer and fall of 2014 and then fell prey to a variety of issues that delayed its release.
While the album’s title may reflect Yatras‘ desire to escape from an urban society that conflicts with his ideals, “I’ll Give Myself To the Wind” shines with a kind of brightness (Yatras says that it could be considered “the pop song” on an album that’s otherwise the darkest one he has recorded). The sound is dense, with a coating of scratchy haze on the layered guitars, and Yatras gives voice to some ghastly shrieks (along with low, somber clean vocals and high, arcing tones), but the song is a very infectious, hard-driving rocker, and the song’s chiming melody is beautiful, albeit depressive.
Escape is set for release by Prophecy Productions on April 29 and it’s now available for pre-order here:
Well, here’s one more album I would have been eagerly anticipating if I had known it was on the way this year. Gravdal’s last album Torturmantra is now about six years old, and in the intervening years it seems the band’s line-up has changed, with the departure of guitarist Specter and vocalist Galge. Founders Phobos (Aeternus, Gorgoroth live) and Taakesjel are still around, now joined by bassist/vocalist Eld (Krakow, Aeternus) and guitarist Saur (Dominanz).
Apparently, the new album is currently being recorded in the band’s hometown of Bergen, Norway, and will be named Kadaverin. Over the weekend, the band made available a rough mix of a track called “Domino“, which I’m really liking. It’s a slow rumbling song, with a methodical beat and a gloomy overhang in the melody, accented by twisted, dissonant lead guitar excursions and wild, maniacal vocal shrieks.
The pace picks up in the back half as the drum beats accelerate and the guitar becomes more deranged. It’s an unsettling song that ultimately takes on the trappings of a kind of psychedelic trip — but a trip that’s worth taking, and taking again.
The Hidden Paths to Black Ecstasy is the name of the debut album by the Greek band Nox Formulae, which will be released by Dark Descent on May 9. And although the Greek metal scene is already well-stocked with outstanding black metal bands, it seems that room must be made for one more.
This band are driven by a Luciferian spiritual mission, characterizing the album as a “sonic grimoire” that “should be treated as an equal to an actual book of Dark Magic”, one intended to facilitate contact with “extra-dimensional Entities” who “reside in the Death Plane ruled by the Black Dragon”.
Our first taste of this new piece of black Gnosis is a song called “Hidden Clan NXN – Pt a. Eleven Rays of Sorat, Pt b. Black Magic Assault“, and in some ways it reminded me of that Gravdal track discussed above. It’s a largely mid-paced song with a catchy bass-and-drum beat and dissonant, esoteric riffing. It includes guitar melodies that are both pulsing and serpentine, with a bereft yet occult kind of aura, as well as bursts of double bass and high, inflamed howls. Driven by writhing guitar chords, it grows in intensity, as if an invocation ritual is reaching its culmination. Interesting and mind-bending….
Kassad is a one-man black metal project from London who invited us to hear a three-track EP named Humans, which was released via Bandcamp in mid-January and which thematically “charts the immense human suffering caused by the Israel-Palestine conflict”. I wish I had more time to listen to everything that lands in our in-box, but I’m sure glad I made time for this one.
“Missiles” begins storming right from the beginning, a maelstrom of blasting drums joined with a sandblasting haze of distorted guitars that’s marked by a slow, penetrating guitar melody (and maybe keyboards, too?). Heavy on the distortion and accented by abrasive noise and equally abrasive vocal harshness, it’s a song that almost relentlessly builds tension. It has a brooding, bereft atmosphere that grows into a sense of wretchedness and emotional extremity.
“Ashes” then provides a dynamic contrast, beginning with slow, somber, isolated guitar notes in a repeating motif set against a cold, windy backdrop. A second guitar comes in, playing against that loop in a higher range, and then deeper distorted, guitar chords join in, vibrating with radioactive decay. A largely instrumental piece, it has a very bleak, mournful, grief-stricken aura, underscored by massed wordless male voices (or maybe that’s a synthesizer at work?).
The best song comes last. Announced by a warning siren, a thumping beat, and another dense wall of distorted riffing and bestial howls, “Revenge” proves to be a mesmerizing song, despite or perhaps because of its overarching depressive mood. A slow, almost dreamy, atmospheric guitar (or keyboard?) melody rises like mist and begins to shine above the cacophony. The intensity grows, as if a mind’s grip on reality is loosening — but then the song breaks, and a distorted, reverberating lead guitar comes in with a sorrowful melody. Listening to this song, I’m reminded of the late lamented Lifelover, which is a very good thing.
This is an unexpected, under-the-radar release that’s tremendously good. Do make time to explore it.
I’m concluding this collection with a song that’s maybe not really any shade of black, though listening to it, I feel like I’ve left the earth and gone sailing among the stars in an indigo night sky.
The song is “Polaris” and it’s from the new album by Dissvarth, Between the Light and The Moon. I’ve written about Dissvarth before, but for new explorers it’s a two-person project composed of Dis Pater from Midnight Odyssey and Svarthen from Aeon Winds.
In genre terms, you could think of Dissvarth’s music as atmospheric dark ambient, neo-folk, and/or darkwave. Regardless of the label, “Polaris” is haunting and entrancing, a beautiful piece with keyboard melodies that do indeed shine like stars in a night sky. Vocally, it’s also an exception to our “Rule”.
I don’t yet have a precise release date, but the album will again be coming from I, Voidhanger Records.
Lots of raw delight to look forward to. This post reminds me I’ll have to send a few mails to labels that’s changed PR agency. Black or bleak shades, Dissvarth rounds off beautifully.
“Shades of Bleak”. 🙂
Quite curious to see where that Mantar album goes. I see why you put it in Shades of Black.
NOX Forumlae is especially exciting. I kept coming back to the player to confirm I was still listening to the same band, it was all so good.
Domino is an excellent track!
That Mantar is shaping up to be just as awesome as the debut. Psyched on Germ and Gravdal too, and Kassad is an intriguing listen as well.