SHADES OF BLACK: ALCEST, ENSLAVED, WINTERFYLLETH, ULTHA
Just as yesterday’s Seen and Heard round-up was much shorter than usual, so too is this Sunday’s edition of Shades of Black. I got back to Seattle last night from that four-day wedding festivity in Vegas I’ve mentioned before, but between the two premieres I’ve posted since then and a backlog of personal stuff to deal with, I haven’t had time to write about everything I wanted to include in this post. I’m hoping to supplement it during the coming week before going off to Migration Fest on Thursday, when our site’s content will probably diminish again.
With so many songs and full releases on my list of Shades to choose from, I picked the following four items to recommend, without much rhyme or reason. The bands are less obscure than usual for these posts, until you get to the end.
I suspect I will always consider Alcest to be a shade of black even if Neige and Winterhalter decide to start playing bluegrass — though that hasn’t happened yet. The fifth Alcest album is named Kodama, which we’re told is the Japanese word for “tree spirit” and also refers to the process of sounds reverberating across mountains, valleys, and forests that’s often attributed to these spirits.
We’re further informed by Prophecy Productions that the album drew inspiration from Hayao Miyazaki’s anime film Princess Mononoke (and the spirits contained therein):
“Kodama picks up on the fate of its protagonist and, at its core, deals with the sensation of not belonging; of living in between worlds, be it city and nature or the physical and spiritual one. Duality is also crucial for the visual approach of the album, realized by French graphic designer duo Førtifem. Paying tribute to Japanese illustrators like Takato Yamamoto, the visuals portray contrasting elements — nature and urbanity, youth and death, femininity and animality — and combine poetic elements with darker ones that were not present in Alcest’s earlier work.”
The song below is “Oiseaux de Proie” (“birds of prey”), and it appears fifth among the album’s six tracks. It’s near-impossible to prevent your head from starting to move through the song’s opening of compulsive, cannon-shot drum rhythms and its rippling, lilting riff. There’s a luminous, panoramic quality to the song, as well as an aura of tension-building drama, with the growing intensity amplified when the vocals morph from clean into scarring and the drums and guitar begin to race in a headlong drive.
Prophecy prophesied in its press release that Kodama “‘echoes’ Alcest’s 2010 classic, Écailles de lune“, while delivering “greater punch, rhythm and a more organic feel than ever before” — and based on this first advance track, that seems accurate. There’s also a more evident linkage to black metal than other examples one might draw from Alcest’s most recent albums. I’m certainly eager to discover what else Kodama holds in store.
Kodama will be released by Prophecy on September 30 and it’s available for pre-order here:
I would guess that many current fans of Enslaved (and there are indeed many) have never crawled back through the mists of time to learn how the band started their twisting and turning journey. Their first album appeared in 1994 on the Deathlike Silence Productions label (founded by Euronymous), with the title Vikingligr Veldi. There will now be a new opportunity to explore that release, because a new label named By Norse Music is releasing a remastered version of it on vinyl, accompanied by new illustrations by the masterful Zbigniew M Bielak.
I certainly don’t consider myself a thorough-going metal archaeologist, and have never listened to all of this album myself. But I’ve now heard the remastered version of a long track from this reissue called “Lifandi Lif Undir Hamri”, and you too can listen to it below. It thunders, gallops, dances, and staggers, with an ethereal, carnival-like keyboard motif that shimmers above the high-energy storming (and the song includes some very compulsive jabbing riffs and infectiously pulsing bass lines as well).
It’s a fantastic song that reveals Enslaved’s immense creativity even at such an early stage — and has value today well beyond that of a mere historical artifact.
The vinyl edition of the album is available here or here.
Last week, Britain’s Winterfylleth announced that their new album The Dark Hereafter will be released on September 30 by Candlelight Records and Spinefarm, and it further appears that the new album will include the contributions of a new fifth member, Mark Deeks, who contributes keyboards and additional vocals, which would seem to promise an additional dimension to the band’s sound. From what I’ve read about the new album, it will also include “longer, more expansive songs”.
There’s no new music to share with you yet, but I’m including the announcement here anyway because it’s Winterfylleth, and they have never disappointed.
In March of this year I posted (here) an interview of this new German black metal band along with a stream of a song from their debut album Pain Cleanses Every Doubt, which was originally released by a group of European labels last year and then re-released in April 2016 by Translation Loss Records. I first discovered the band because the line-up includes Ralph Schmidt from Planks, a band I sorely miss. But Pain Cleanses Every Doubt made that loss easier to bear, because it’s a fantastic album.
And with that introduction, I invite you to listen below to a new Ultha EP named Dismal Ruins, which was released on vinyl by Vendetta Records on August 3 (it’s also available on CD, and on tape from Tartarus Records). The two songs were originally recorded for a split with the French band Paramnesia that didn’t come to pass.
The first track, “…And They Carried Death In Their Eyes”, was written around the time that Ultha recorded their album. Aided by a sweeping keyboard melody, the song is majestic but also surges with dark, ominous power, the vocals alone conveying wrenching intensity. The music is freighted with an aura of emotional collapse, weighted with a heavy mantle of doom, yet it also burns with defiance — and it’s so emotionally powerful and intense that it carries the mind far away from all mundane surroundings.
The second track is a cover of song called “Ghost Walking” by a band I’m not familiar with, a deathrock/gothic group named Mighty Sphincter. I’ve not yet tracked down the original to see how Ultha might have revised it in their own performance, but taking this cover on its own, it’s a goddamned crusher — a slow-motion, blood-freezing avalanche of blackened doom with a swaying, exotic melody and more keyboard accents, which give this song (like the first one) an air of grandeur as well as eerie threat.
It appears that Ultha have at least one split in their plans before year-end, as well as teasers of a new album. If you don’t already have your eyes focused on this band, it’s time you did.
Dismal Ruins can be ordered in all three formats here or as a digital download here:
Vikingligr Veldi is such a good album.
It remains, to this day, my favourite Enslaved album and one of my favourite second-wave black metal albums ever. This one is really among the best of the best.
I feel like I have severely deprived myself by never before listening to this entire album. I R a dummy.
Dat Alcest song tho.
Yeah I don’t care if you can call it BM or not, it’s a beautiful song.
Is Winterhalter actually playing on the Alcest recording? It sounds suspiciously BFD-ish. I mean, it sounds good, and he’s clearly good enough to play that stuff – it just sounds a bit off.
Great song though, really looking forward to the record.