(In this post Andy Synn combines reviews of three superb 2017 albums by Acherontas (Greece), Dødsengel (Norway), and Hetroertzen (Chile/Sweden), and provides full streams of the music from all three as well.)
When people talk about the background and historical impact of Black Metal, the majority of the praise and prestige is given to the genre’s Norwegian progenitors… and rightly so, as this is, ultimately, where the first seeds were sown.
But focussing entirely on Norway doesn’t tell the whole story. After all, not only is Black Metal these days a worldwide phenomenon, it’s also one with global roots, and, as its influence has spread, different countries and different localities have all given birth to their own particular variants on the style.
The three bands featured here – one from Greece, one from Norway, and one from Chile/Sweden – all epitomise, in their own particular way, the eclectic, exotic, face of Black Metal today, so it only seemed fitting to me to group them all together under one black banner.
ACHERONTAS – AMARTA (FORMULAS OF REPTILIAN UNIFICATION, PART II)
Probably the most overtly “mystical” of the three groups (though not necessarily by a huge margin), Acherontas are also the closest to being an “orthodox” Black Metal band… though this doesn’t mean they’re in any way predictable or lacking in ambition.
So, while songs like the feverish “Schism of Worlds” and the scalding melodic deluge of “Sopdet Denudata” find the band wallowing in a veritable orgy of caustic riffs, cascading blastbeats, and blasphemous blackened belligerence, look a little closer and you’ll soon find that there’s far more going on than it first appears.
For one thing, each track conceals a deeper layer of artfully abrasive atmosphere which, particularly when compared to in-your-face intensity of the guitars and drums (not to mention the morbid, magisterial vocals of Acherontas himself), seems to operate on an almost subliminal level, working insidiously to influence the underlying form and fabric of your thoughts even as the metallic mayhem of the music assaults your physical senses.
For another, the much-vaunted “ritualistic” aspects of Black Metal are beautifully realised (which is far from always the case), with the strangely compelling rhythmic shifts and borderline-hypnotic melodies infesting songs such as “Yesod Inversum”, “Rosa Andromeda”, and the sacramental savagery of “Savikalpa Samadhi” (which, together, make for a fantastic triptych moving into the second half of the album) providing a clever counterpoint to the raging maelstrom which surround them.
Ultimately this is an album which embraces both catharsis and contemplation (though with perhaps a bit more of an emphasis on the former), but which also doesn’t skimp on either hooks or heaviness in the process.
Oddly enough though, despite being significantly shorter than its predecessor, Amarta doesn’t seem to flow quite as well, with the songs (while made of stern stuff individually) never quite coalescing into one coherent whole the way they did on Ma-Ion.
That being said, this is really only a minor (and entirely subjective) criticism in the long run, particularly when the pair of albums (Formulas of Reptilian Unification Parts I & II) together make for such a thrilling, fascinating, listen.
DØDSENGEL – INTEREQUINOX
Probably the most experimental and unusual of the bunch (not to mention my personal favourites), Dødsengel are well known for their rather liberal and dismissive attitude towards Black Metal’s more provincial and parochial tendencies, choosing instead to flavour their ostentatious occult stylings with elements drawn from a host of other styles and sub-genres.
As a result the Norwegian duo are undoubtedly painting with a richer and more varied sonic palette than most, and in this respect Interequinox (the band’s long-awaited follow-up to the monstrous Imperator) is no different, incorporating a wealth of unusual tones and textures, all delivered with a mix of doomy, psychedelic swagger and shamelessly proggy theatricality.
The seditious melodies and strutting menace of “Pangenetor”, for example, make for one hell of an opening statement, crowned with Kark’s eerie, enigmatic vocals (part creepy, King Diamond-esque wail, part caustic, throat-scraping howl) and a general air of malice and spite, after which the undulating grooves of “Prince of Ashes” up the intensity (not to mention the unsettling vibes) by several notches.
“Værens Korsvei” initially presents with a looser, rock-ier feel to it… one which is quickly banished by the furious assault of blastbeats and driving dissonance which follows (though, as always, the group are careful to weave in a number of splintered hooks amidst the caterwauling chaos), after which the bizarre Black(ened) Sabbath worship of “Emerald Earth” really takes things out there into the realms of the weird and wonderful.
“Opaque”, meanwhile, reins in some of the band’s more… eccentric… ambitions, but doesn’t do away with them entirely, resulting in a delightfully dark display of visceral rage and dissonant fury, tinged with arch progressive touches and a fearless disregard for convention – all terms which could also be applied to “Illusions” (although this song also doubles down on the proggy extravagance and ominous, almost operatic, vocal invocations at the same time).
By the time that the prowling Blackened Doom-Rock of “Palindrome” (one of the album’s stand-out tracks in my humble opinion) reaches its conclusion I must admit to experiencing a certain amount of listener fatigue, meaning that the gritty “Ved Alltings Ende” and the morbidly melodic “Rubedo” didn’t quite have the same impact which the earlier tracks did – though whether this is a fault of mine, or an artefact of the track order/album dynamic, is open to debate.
Thankfully, however, “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” recaptured my attention instantly with its galvanising amalgamation of bleak melody, baleful atmosphere, and grim-faced ferocity, bringing the album to a close (well, almost, as the relatively throw-away “Panphage” is the actual final track) in truly sinister style.
Unabashedly imperfect in its execution, but undeniably impressive in its ambition, Interequinox continues Dødsengel’s ongoing streak of refusing to play it safe and refusing to play by the rules of others. And is all the better for it.
HETROERTZEN – UPRISING OF THE FALLEN
It’s hard not to open any discussion about Hetroertzen without mentioning the band’s unusual history, namely their decision to emigrate from their native Chile to the colder, harsher climate of Sweden, leading to a five-year gap between the last release by the “old” Hetroertzen (2005’s Rex Averno) and the first release by the “new” version of the band (2010’s Exaltation of Wisdom).
But, whether as a result of line-up changes, or as a response to their new surroundings, Exaltation of Wisdom saw the band and their sound undergoing an intriguing transformation, moving away from the more “typical” Black Metal of their early releases towards a more expansive, more wide-ranging, sound, one that put the “art” of Black Metal first and foremost, above and beyond any concerns for the dictates and demands of the purists.
Uprising of the Fallen is not only the band’s sixth album overall, and their first with a reconstituted line-up — which sees band mainman Frater D. stepping back behind the drumkit and ceding his position as lead vocalist to their Swedish-born guitarist Anubis – but also the natural culmination of the group’s long-running metamorphosis, retaining the powerful and unpredictable dynamic of their more recent works while also streamlining and refining their style and delivery even further.
As a result, tracks like simmering opener “Uprising” and its electrifying follow-up “Zealous Procreation” are as primal and as potent as anything the band have previously put their name to, but are also heavier and hookier – not to mention more focussed – than ever before.
This focus, however, doesn’t preclude the band from experimenting with their formula, as there are hints of Doom, Prog, and Trad Metal influences peppered across the length and breadth of this album, from the moody malevolence that underpins “The Fallen Star” to the droning, hypnotic vibes of “Upon the Threasholds”, peaking in the vim and vigour and venom of “The Trial”, which mixes and matches old-school influences and new-school inspirations in truly fearless/fearsome fashion.
Culminating in the writhing fury and brooding atmosphere of “Lost and Betrayed”, Uprising of the Fallen is the sort of album which richly deserves to be considered as the band’s magnum opus… at least until the next one anyway!