Jan 152017


It’s time to blacken the Sabbath again. As usual, I find myself up to my eyebrows in new advance tracks and new or newly discovered full releases I’d like to write about. I picked this group not only because they’re among the best of what I have on my list but also because they provide an array of different sounds and a mix between higher-profile and more under-the-radar bands.


Agalloch is no more, of course, and I would guess that many people who mourn the band’s dissolution blame John Haughm, certainly in part because of a poorly worded and widely lampooned statement he made when the news broke last year. His former Agalloch comrades have joined forces with Aaron John Gregory of Giant Squid to form a new band named Khôrada, who are now busy recording demos — and I’m quite anxious to hear what they’re creating.

Meanwhile, John Haughm founded Pillorian.



In this new venture Haughm is joined by our friend Stephen Parker of Maestus and The Will of A Million (and ex-Arkhum) and Trevor Matthews of Uada. Pillorian’s debut album Obsidian Arc is now scheduled for release on March 10 by Eisenwald.

I haven’t made time to listen to the whole album yet, only the song that premiered at Stereogum not long ago. The track is named “A Stygian Pyre“, and it will also be released as a 7” single on February 10 by Dammerung Arts in the U.S. and Eisenwald in Europe. The single will include a vinyl-exclusive B-side track with a guest appearance by Alison Chesley from Helen Money.

“A Stygian Pyre” may surprise people who were expecting Son of Agalloch. It’s a ferocious, rhythmically dynamic piece that hits with head-battering power. The melodies, which alternately boil and flow in sinuous fashion, are grim, otherworldly, and quite alluring, while Haughm’s voice is in pure sulfuric-acid mode. It’s easy to rock out to the song, too. Damned good stuff.

Obsidian Arc features cover art by Belgian artist Niels Geybels. Here’s the track list, and the new single:

1. By the Light of a Black Sun (8:22)
2. Archaen Divinity (6:44)
3. The Vestige of Thorns (8:45)
4. Forged Iron Crucible (7:08)
5. A Stygian Pyre (5:05)
6. The Sentient Arcanum (2:43)
7. Dark is the River of Man (9:31)









In September 2015 we premiered a full stream of this Polish band’s new EP, Our Hearts Slow Down, along with a lengthy review in which I included these words:

“Ingeniously written and beautifully performed, Our Hearts Slow Down is the kind of music that warrants the term avant-garde, both generating a mystical atmosphere full of gloom and supernatural threat and also nourishing the taste for massive grooves and body-moving rhythms. As crafted by this talented band, it’s a combination that works exceedingly well.”

I also observed that while black metal was at the core of the music, Mord’A’Stigmata had a vision that didn’t conform to established forms, and they brought “into play a number of diverse musical styles to create a thoroughly narcotic and irresistibly powerful concoction”.

I’m excited to learn that Mord’A’Stigmata have recorded a new full-length (their fourth) named Hope, which is set for release on February 17 by Pagan Records. I’ll excerpt these introductory words from a statement by the band’s guitarist Static, which are consistent with my own reaction to the previous EP:

“It is hard for me to call the music on Hope black metal. Anyway, I get the impression that the term is frequently abused and given a wrong meaning nowadays. As usual, we came up with a mixture of styles to be named by people more wise than us. We play more with hearts than with heads and do not intend to play someone we are not. And that’s actually what Hope is, the music of pure emotions.”

Below you’ll find the album’s absolutely stunning title track, which premiered at DECIBEL about a week ago. Ear-abrading discordance is dominant at the beginning, soon followed by the launch of a cold, harrowing demolition job. To break the icy storm of frenzied destructiveness, the drums tumble in riveting fashion as chords peal like bells, and later the pulse of a bass and the astringence of feedback pave the way for a wraithlike solo that only deepens the song’s chilling ambience.

Somber spoken words emerge over a pavement-splitting, pile-driving rhythm, and the music begins to groan as well as jab, laying the foundation for a brain-twisting psychedelic solo, warbling and warping like the soundtrack to an opium dream. Oh but there’s still more to come after that — one final unnerving but head-nodding eruption of total warfare.

The cover art for Hope was created by Bartek Rogalewicz. Here’s the track list:

1. Hope
2. The Tomb from Fear and Doubt
3. To Keep the Blood
4. In Less Than No Time








I thank Jon Rosenthal for linking to this next release on Facebook, because that’s how I discovered it. Perhaps I should have discovered it on my own, since Spektral Hatchery are based in Olympia, Washington, just down the highway from Seattle. And perhaps I should have discovered it sooner, since this self-titled EP was released last October. But better late than never, that’s for damned sure.

According to their FB page, Spektral Hatchery’s three members are “associated with Twilight Falls, Tryblith, Clan of the Bleeding Eye, Boreal“.

If you follow the EP from the beginning rather than where the Bandcamp player is set to begin, you’ll get a disturbing introductory track, with roaring ambient tones providing the backdrop to ghostly voices, flickering percussive clicks, and increasingly disorienting pulses of discordance.

Having softened up your brain and putting the frighteners into your bloodstream with that intro track, Spektral Hatchery turn themselves to the serious work of tearing the listener’s sanity to tatters with “Trans-Temporal Being”, a dense wall of abrasive riffing, wrenching shrieks, and a drum performance that sounds like a high-speed avalanche in progress. The song’s slow, heaving melody is doom-drenched and intense, while the lead guitar flickers like a fire elemental.

I should mention that “Trans-Temporal Being” is more than 14 minutes long, and so after the beginning that I just described, you get carried along on a changing trip. The journey is persistently unsettling, but thoroughly transfixing, whether the band are crawling through desolate wastelands shrouded in melancholy, venting typhoons of raw black metal fury that manage to be both incendiary and blood-freezing, or gliding into an alien void. The song also manages to generate an almost majestic atmosphere, but a very dark and dire one, as if an epic struggle of life and death is in progress.

The two songs that follow that magnum opus are also long tracks, each of them well past 8 minutes. They’re just as fascinating — and just as unearthly and unpredictable — as “Trans-Temporal Being”. “Psycosmic Immersion” is well-named. It envelops the listener in a mind-altering and soul-destroying vortex, thoroughly dismal and damned in its emotional aura and immensely powerful. It begins at a funereal pace and eventually becomes a shattering maelstrom of sonic force — yet there is again a dramatic sense that you’re witnessing a monumental conflict at the end of time, with risen and fallen angels tearing the earth apart with swords of flame.

Where “Psycosmic Immersion” began gradually, “Fata Morgana” begins to hammer and crush with cold brutality from the very start — and then explodes in a fireball of maniacal shrieking, blasting drums, earth-splitting bass notes, and full-throttle guitar frenzy. The intensity is overwhelming. You really can’t do anything but stay rooted in place, perhaps cowering in fear, but certainly unable to focus even a small fragment of your mind on anything but the horrible power of what you’re hearing. When the choir of voices rises above this black hurricane near the end, it only deepens the conviction that “Fata Morgana” is the sound of Armageddon.

Staggering, stunning, stupefying, supremely savage — these are just a few words that come to mind as I think about how to sum up Spektral Hatchery. Don’t miss this.








Hatred. Absoliute. is the name of the debut album of Dødknell, which will be released by the Australian label Impure Sounds on February 7. Dødknell is described as “a single entity”, which may or may not mean it’s the work of a single person, but either way, I don’t know who is in the band or where they are located.

Dødknell does seem quite devoted to absolute hatred. The song below is the debut album’s opening track, which is called “Hatred Absolute” (like the album title, except without the periods). The throat-lacerating voice in the song does bespeak incendiary hatred, and there’s a vibrant tremolo melody that’s equally inflamed (and dismal) but also quite magnetic. Rather than a steady stream of blast beats, the song is driven by bounding, galloping rhythm and eventually a slow, morbid trudging that conjures an aura somewhere between a funeral procession and the last steps of a condemned man to the waiting edge of a guillotine.








Like Spektral Hatchery above, Havok Anthems is another late discovery for me (it was also released last October), and I confess that even now I’ve only brushed against the surface of this debut album by a Colombian trio who call themselves Opiate. But the parts I’ve touched have stuck.

In fact, I’ve only listened to the first three tracks (the first of which is an instrumental intro) — but I know my own weaknesses: I fear that if I don’t at least mention this album now, I’ll never come back to the task of writing a complete review. But there’s no doubt I’ll finish listening to the album. And I think if you give “Rendezvous” even one listen, you’ll be on the same mission.

The riffs in that song are amazingly vibrant and immediately compelling — and the guitar sound leaps out at you in a way that spears the brain. The rhythm section hits with riveting force, too, and the vocals convey the sulphur burn of a demon lord. Add in a scintillating solo, and you’ve got a big winner.

“The Excruciating Hindsight” is proof that “Rendezvous” isn’t an outlier. More electrifying riffs are on full display, along with further evidence that Opiate can generate warlike atmosphere as well as pulse-pounding bombast, classic heavy metal riff magic, and fantastic melodies.

The music borrows from several different metal genres, harnessing them together with beautiful song-writing and eye-popping performances. This is a huge surprise that’s left me gasping with excitement. I honestly can’t believe I haven’t heard about the album before now — and I can’t wait to get back to it and find out what other spectacular obsidian beauties await me.








I saved the following song for last, not because it’s the least noteworthy track in this collection but because it’s the most unusual. To quote from this Los Angeles duo’s own description of their music

Wreche pushes the possibilities of piano and drums into a previously uncharted territory where black metal and classical music vie for privilege, hope, and death in smog laden basin of suntanned predation and persistent misery.”

While you ponder that intriguing formulation, I’ll tell you that Wreche consists of pianist John Steven Morgan and drummer Barret Baumgart, and I’m not sure who handles the vocals. Fragile Branch will be releasing their self-titled debut early this year, and below you can partake of a track from the album named “Angel City“.

It combines hard-driving percussive propulsion and discordant piano chords and arpeggios, with high, banshee shrieks expressing the lyrics. Eventually the song becomes even more wildly exuberant and unhinged than it sounds at the beginning, with the rocketing double-bass and a maniacal keyboard performance backed by a drifting ambient shimmer and a gravel-throated bass line. At the end, it becomes a grim, skull-splintering stomp.

The piano performance is jaw-dropping and the drumming is a match for it. “Angel City” is adrenaline-triggering, mind-bending, and utterly fascinating. More please… and soon!




  1. That Wreche is fantastic. Botanist but with piano instead of the dulcimer. It sounds almost like a Final Fantasy boss fight at times.

  2. That Mord’A’Stigmata track is fantastic. I’m really intrigued to hear the whole album.

  3. I really hope both Pillorian and Khorada are as good as they have the potential to be. Yeah, the initial break up post was pretty douchy, but once you get past that, it’s clear that this is what’s best for both parties. Plus, you know, twice the metal for us!

    • That’s kind of my attitude about it. Everyone in Agalloch was really talented, and have the potential to be extremely good in these two separate projects. Pillorian is already sounding excellent, and I have no doubt Khorada is going to be very strong too.

  4. Just out of curiosity, I am working through these shades of black articles from oldest to newest and I believe you guys are doing this series of Shades of Black Metal for years now but I only could find four sites of Shades of Black the oldest entry was from 08th March of last year, I believe that older articles are missing or where they deleted? Anyways nice article. Was about damn time that Mord’A’Stigmata released something new 😀

    • Funny you should ask this question. When I started this series years ago, I wasn’t thinking ahead – wasn’t sure if it would become a regular thing or not. And so I never created a Category tag for it until much later. I spent some time yesterday going back and adding the tag to posts back through the beginning of 2016:


      When I have more time I’ll continue doing that, but that category link should now make it easier to find a few dozen earlier Shades of Black features.

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