SHADES OF BLACK (PART 2): PLEBEIAN GRANDSTAND, OCCULTUM, FIN, HOLYARROW
Greetings and welcome to Part 2 of a three-part post in which I’ve collected recent songs, EPs, and albums in a blackened vein that I’ve been enjoying and think you might enjoy, too. For the music in Part 1, go here. I’ll post Part 3 later today or tomorrow, depending on how life goes.
We last paid attention to the French band Plebeian Grandstand when Austin Weber reviewed their second album Lowgazers in 2014. They now have a new one named False Highs, True Lows (great name), which will be released on April 29 by Throatruiner Records (LP and CD) and Basement Apes (CD).
I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that you forget the conceptions you may have formed if you heard Lowgazers, but this new album is really something else, to be approached with fresh ears.
The third track on the album is “Tributes and Oblivions”, and it premiered last week at Stereogum. Turbulent, dissonant, head-blasting, spine-rumbling music that’s sludgy and shrieking. Wild, harrowing, heavy, and alive. (I’m sure I’ve overlooked some adjectives, but I’ll probably write more later and think of them then.)
My Serbian friend “M” introduced me to the music of this band from Toruń, Poland. Their debut album Towards Eternal Chaos was released late last month by Old Temple and is available on CD and digitally on Bandcamp.
The heavy-as-hell fire and thunder of “End of Light” sunk its fangs in my neck almost immediately. It pulses with feral energy, mixing huge pile-driving riffs and flickering guitar melody, booming bass notes and unhinged vocal madness. And the drums hit with the force of a rolling earthquake.
I fell so under the power of that opening song that I listened to it three times before moving on to the rest of the album. You’ll be happy to know that it’s not an outlier. These guys know how to write dynamic, memorable songs, and their skill as performers is abundantly evident. All of the songs have visceral power and passion, as well as including technically impressive instrumental acrobatics.
And did I mention that the vocals reach heights of sheer, blood-spraying insanity? I guess I did mention that, but there are also soulful clean vocals lurking in here as well.
In short, Towards Eternal Chaos is a rocking, ravaging, riveting surprise that needs to be spread like the plague. (If you want to get a quick sense of just how much variety Occultum pack into their music, I’d suggest the last song “Gehinnom Gate” — but you really can’t go wrong with any of these tracks.)
I thank my Norwegian friend eiterorm for alerting me to this next song. It’s by the two-man Chicago black metal band FIN, who I’ve been following for a while (previous reviews are collected here). This song is the first new music since the band’s excellent 2015 album The Furrows of Tradition. Its name is “Minstrels” and it appears on a vinyl split with the one-man Austrian band Totale Vernichtung called Transatlantic Hate & Resentment Division, with cover art by Misanthropic-Art.
The song’s opening is steeped in sorrow, with the air of a medieval lament, complete with choral voices. That exotic melody and those massed voices persist even when the drums begin to blast and the guitar begins to spew streamers of high, electrifying melody. A thoroughly riveting and fascinating piece of music… and when you hear it, the song’s title makes some sense.
To finish this collection of music in the orbit of black metal, I’m revisiting yet another band I’ve written about before in Shades of Black: the one-man band HolyArrow — the creation of Shi Kequan from Amoy (aka Xiamen) on the southeast coast of The People’s Republic of China. If you haven’t yet listened to HolyArrow’s January 2016 debut album Oath of Allegiance, I recommend you do. But the most recent release is a cover of the song “Blood of Christians On My Sword” off the 1995 album Thousand Swords by the Polish band Graveland.
I confess that even after hearing HolyArrow’s cover, I still haven’t listened to the original version of the song — though I will. But I’ve fallen hard for this very memorable cover. It’s a fire-breathing, hell-for-leather gallop, with great guitar work, blood-pumping drums, and face-peeling vocals. I hope HolyArrow plans to release the song in some fashion so I don’t have to be tethered to the internet whenever I want to hear it (which has been happening once a day for weeks).
I pre-ordered Plebeian Grandstand and got a full download. Its sound will be familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention to France’s black metal scene, but it is very good.
I’m very anxious to hear the rest of it. Acquiring it now…
I’ve heard Tributes and Oblivions three times now.
Very cool stuff!
This new PG album is indeed exceptional. However, I don’t really see much of anything “black” about it. I’ve heard some comparisons to Blut aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, etc., and I see some similarities, but to me they sound much more like an avant garde death metal band in the vein of Ulcerate. Splitting hairs? Perhaps. But that’s what being a metal fan is all about.
I wouldn’t put up a big argument about it myself… lots of times I choose to include music in these Shades of Black posts because it’s very dark or has certain kinds of connections (at least in my head) to the aura of black metal even if it would be a stretch to put that label on it.
While I was listening to the album today and the track “Oculi Lac” was playing, I thought to myself, “Self, this is indeed quite black.” In short, this band defies all attempts at categorization.
That Occultum album is sounding like something I need to spend some time with.
Trust me, you really do. It’s a wonderful journey from start to finish.
Dude, don’t promote Graveland-Songs. That’s simple NSBM.
Darken specifically.. I guess. but yeah… shit. right? either way… dicey stuff!!!
Fin sounding amazing. Though they have some interesting imagery too. Themes of nationalism.
Its always a weird term, that. Could be harmless pride, but its a thin line of murk to full on intolerance.
I didn’t think I was promoting Graveland’s songs. I was recommending HolyArrow’s cover, and I don’t think there’s any connection between HolyArrow and NSBM. HolyArrow’s debut album tells the story of a war that occurred from 1645 to 1660 between the Ming Dynasty — led by a military commander named Koxinga — and the forces of the Manchus. The lyrics are in Hokkien, the Chinese dialect spoken in Amoy and elsewhere.
Again, its entirely worth noting that Graveland itself doesn’t hold any specific NS lean as a band, at least at this point. The middle period is quite weird though.
And even then, he’s backed off in more recent years, so… does that make it okay? Maybe not, maybe not. Its up to the individual, but I think covering a Graveland song, in and of itself, isn’t dicey… especially an old one like that. Nokturnal Mortum are a super band with a dicey history. But if someone covered something from Voice of Steel would we really be offended?
No. I don’t think so. Im not making excuses for Graveland, Holy Arrow or Rob Darken, but it still seems like theres worse evils, like say, openly associating with Arghoslent who have always been outspoken about their beliefs.
Darken is an NS asshole, but outside of a couple of sketchy songs like “White Hands Power” and “The Four Wings of the Sun” Graveland isnt really an NSBM band anymore than Burzum is an NSBM band
…that being said, dont you think its a little late to be worrying about promoting a band thats been around for 25 years and that anyone with a passing knowledge of Polish black metal probably already knows about…the cat is kind of out of the bag at this point