You might have noticed that I didn’t post a SHADES OF BLACK article yesterday — or anything else, for that matter. I was in Wyoming with my spouse from Thursday through Saturday attending a wedding, and spent Sunday getting home. On the airplane rides there and back I plowed through the NCS in-box and did some other web surfing. Found a ton of new stuff I wanted to listen to, and managed to find a couple of hours here and there over the weekend when I did do some listening, just enough to find the selections I’ve collected here, though not enough time to write anything.
The music below is a mix of full new releases and advance tracks from forthcoming albums… and I’ve included one song stream that isn’t black metal… or maybe even metal at all… except in its spirit. But I’m beginning with a news item hot off the presses.
In early July I gleefully reported the news that Jens Bogren had finished mixing and mastering the new 14th studio album by Enslaved, an album that Grutle Kjellson described as “a little re-boot, a fresh start so to speak”. Today the album art (above, hand-painted by the Norwegian artist Truls Espedal) was unveiled, and we received more details about the album, which I’ll quote here from the press release:
“True avant-garde Norwegians ENSLAVED have announced the release of their epic new studio album for October 13th 2017. This 14th full-length masterpiece sets the musical mind-twisters free from genre boundaries and offers an unprecedented mix of prog, extreme metal and shoegaze on 8 tracks with a playing time of more than an hour.
“Elegantly titled ‘E’, the album was once again written by the unholy alliance of guitarist Ivar Bjørnson (music, lyrics) and singer/bassist Grutle Kjellson (lyrics) and marks the introduction of their new keyboard master and clean vocalist Håkon Vinje…. As support for their brave sound journey, the quintet brought several guest musicians on board for the songs ‘Hiindsiight’ and ‘Feathers Of Eolh’, including WARDRUNA’s Einar Kvitrafn Selvik, flutist Daniel Mage and jazz saxophonist Kjetil Møster.”
I remain just as curious about the music as I was when I first read Kjellson’s remarks back in July. Physical editions of the album can be pre-ordered via the link below, and it’s available digitally through iTunes.
Last year the California/Swiss duo Battle Dagorath released a great album that we didn’t pay enough attention to (other than my enthusiastic reception for an advance track off the album). That album, I – Dark Dragons of the Cosmos, was announced as the first part of a two-part release, and the second part — II – Frozen Light of Eternal Darkness — is now set for release on September 15 by Avantgarde Music.
The new Bandcamp page for the album includes these words:
“Through time Battle Dagorath have gradually evolved as an outlier creating distant ominous landscapes. II is music from a dreamlike dimension. A solemn ceremony to the inner cycles of the soul, a purging rite that ruminates into the deep shrouds of disintegration. Metamorphosis consumes your being. There is an emphasis of hypnotic majesty in the arrangements, an expansion on the mystical embodiment and bombastic spectral grandeur of their true message.”
I quote these words because they ring true, based on the first advance track from the album. “Death Ov Aeons” is an 11+ minute astral sea of hyper-blasting percussion and fiery riffing, its ominous and incandescent melodic currents carrying the listener aloft on otherworldly storm tides of sound. Rippling keyboards and blazing bass-work join in this mesmerizing tumult, along with vocals that are both caustic and solemn.
As one might expect from the song’s length, the storm eventually subsides, and the music then glides through vistas of glowing nebulae, or through gossamer veils that separate the here and now from realms we might otherwise only glimpse through our imaginations.
WHEN BITTER SPRING SLEEPS
In January of this year we premiered a stream of Turm Am Hang, the new album by the German band Horn. The brilliant last track on that album is a cover of “The Sky Has Not Always Been This Way” from the 2013 album Coven of the Wolves by Iowa-based When Bitter Spring Sleeps, with a guest vocal appearance by the latter band’s Lord Sardonyx.
It’s a great cover, and it also caused me to revisit the original song. The lyrics are wonderful, and the song is too. And now I’m happy to report that When Bitter Spring Sleeps has a new album on the way. Entitled Star-Thrown, it will be released on August 31 by Pagan Flames. Before listening to the song from the album that I’ve embedded below, I read this from a press release:
“While honoring WBSS‘ pagan black metal roots, Star-Thrown adds choral vocals, and space atmospheric elements to its underground sound. In a bold move, the vocals performed by Lord Sardonyx are now entirely choral in style, somewhat akin to a cloister of secluded monks. Combined with the black metal guitars and ethereal guitar synth leads, this achieves not an ‘symphonic’ sound, but the feel of a sort of ‘Cosmic Cathedral’.”
The press release also included this comment from Lord Sardonyx:
“All previous WBSS albums contained unifying concepts told through mythical tales. The concept for Star-Thrown is much less specific, but all the tracks share my belief that nature does not end at the Earth’s horizon. She is merely a part of the universe and all of Nature was previously part of dying stars. All of this will someday be destroyed, transformed, and reformed into new matter. When the mighty Earth is consumed by our dying sun, everything will be thrown to the universe on a possible path to rebirth as new lifeforms or merely inanimate matter. These songs tell a tale of destruction, transformation, and rebirth on a cosmic scale.
“I am very pleased with the sound of the album. I believe it is the best sounding album I’ve done. You will not be destroyed by the crushing intensity of it, because that was not the intention at all. I strived to create a smooth, warm atmosphere that was also very powerful and uplifting. There is a bit of sorrow and dreamlike darkness within, but mostly I feel that it portrays a very positive vibration concerning the transmission of our material to other worlds. A celebration of freeing the spirit from the physical body.”
The song below is “CosmiCathedraLumination“, and I thought it would make for a good follow-on to that Battle Dagorath track. But while the song shivers and glimmers with cosmic ambience at the outset (and again later in the track), it becomes majestic and solemn even in its rocking rhythm, and it does indeed feel uplifting, just as the choral vocals do sound like voices reverently raised to the heavens in a cloistered monastery. Beautiful….
Star-Thrown was mastered by Andrew D’Cagna (Obsequiae, Nechochwen, Ironflame, Coldfells).
Pagan Flames Facebook:
I have Dutch Pearce to thank for this next discovery. It’s a debut demo released on July 5 by a duo from Akureyri, Iceland, who call themselves Vanvid. That release was the focus of Dutch Pearce’s latest “Demo Listen” column at DECIBEL, in which he described the music as “something too unique to call occult, and too haunted to call simply black metal”.
Quoting one of the band members, he also explained that the nearly 40-minute demo was recorded in a mere 10 hours (with only one instrumental performer) — and that the demo was entirely improvised on the spot (apart from some riffs that had been concocted in advance), with the vocals evolving over the course of the recording session.
That’s an impressive back-story, given how good the demo is. The riffs are key here (at least on the first three tracks), and they do indeed often channel an eerie, haunted, witchy kind of vibe — but they also often have the feel of “classic” heavy metal, just as they also rip and ravage like a blood-lusting wolf pack in the dead of winter. They’re also powerfully infectious.
Perhaps because the songs were largely improvised, they display a lot of variety… as do the vocals, which range from creepy spoken words to grim near-chants to unhinged shrieking delirium. A fascinating demo, to be sure, one in which some new surprise lurks around every corner, not least of which are the surprises found in the two instrumental tracks that end the EP. “Dåp” sounds like a duet between a squeeze-box and a harmonica, and the long, soft, spellbinding closing track “Lang vinter” is nothing but a repeating acoustic guitar measure set against a backdrop of eerie, itchy ambient sound.
If you got lulled into a daydream by the last two tracks on that Vanvid EP, you’re about to get waked up as if a war had suddenly broken out inside your head.
Profane Order are based in Montreal (true story — in a Freudian slip, I originally typed “Monsteral”). Their line-up includes members of other Montreal black metal bands, specifically Spectral Wound and Taggarik. They self-released their debut EP Tightened Noose of Sanctimony on July 28 in a tape edition of 114 copies, which seems to be nearly sold out already, though the Malaysian label Diabolicurst Productions (Blasphemy, Beherit, Revenge) will also be releasing a tape edition. Fortunately for the tape-challenged, the EP is also on Bandcamp as a download.
Tightened Noose… is a finely crafted implement of destruction, a withering blackened death metal blitzkrieg full of toxically corrosive grinding and swarming riffs, crater-creating bass munitions, a thundering, head-cracking drum attack, and an assortment of sparingly used but freakish and incinerating solos. Ghastly howls and roars accompany the electrifying instrumental torrents.
And to be clear, the music here isn’t some murky froth of shapeless chaos. As ruthlessly destructive as they are, the songs are also heavy-grooved and catchy as hell, and more dynamic than you might be expecting. For me the standout track is “Terror Worship”, in part because of the bewildering black magic that the band practice when they slow the pace. But you can’t go wrong with any of these six obsidian gems.
The Belgian band Bütcher were active between 2002 and 2007 and are now returning after a long hiatus with a new shredder in their line-up and with their first full-length album. They picked a title that won’t leave the listener guessing too much about what they’re in for, though it may also be a bit of a misdirection: Bestial Fükkin’ Warmachine is the album’s name, and it was released on July 7 (LP, CD, and digital).
The music does indeed have its bestial aspects, especially in the character of some of the vocal excretions (which also include some gritty clean singing and some power-metal-styled soaring), but the songs are made of solid-gold riffs and brain-piercing solos that harken back to halcyon days of speed metal as well as proto-black-metal. It’s just one full-strength injection of adrenaline after another, with enough tempo twists and turns and stylistic variances in the songs to keep you on the edge of your seats — and some glorious melodies to boot.
If you’ve only got time to check out one track as a test case, the title track is the one I’d recommend. It shows off the range of the band’s capabilities to very good effect. But there really aren’t any weak links in this bullet belt; even the two-minute instrumental track “Flight of the Nazgûl”, only half of which is actually music, is a little gem.
THE DARK RED SEED
Now for something different. This is the song I mentioned in the introduction which I’m including in this collection because of its spirit — its powerfully dark atmosphere — even though it’s not black metal, or maybe even metal at all. It’s also just an amazingly evocative and memorable song.
The song is “The Antagonist” and it comes from Stands With Death, which is the debut EP by The Dark Red Seed. That’s the name of a project that consists of Portland-based guitarist Tolsten Larson (of King Dude) and King Dude engineer Shawn Fleming. Stands With Death will be released by Prophecy Productions on September 15, and its three tracks are described as representing “various aspects of death (the death of America, death of culture and death of reality through technology and globalization).”
The ghostly reverberating twang of the guitar notes and pulsating bass tones that begin “The Antagonist”, coupled with the timbre of Larson’s voice and the atmosphere of the lyrics and the melody, bring to mind some of the darkest recordings of Johnny Cash (if Cash had a better vocal range), or the haunting compositions of Nick Cave.
But the song has more than just emotional weight — there are some heaving sludgy chords in here, too. And the extended solo at the end is spellbinding.
Prophecy Productions reports that The Dark Red Seed’s first full-length album, Becomes Awake, is in the pipeline and tentatively scheduled for a summer 2018 release. The record is described as “a detailed concept album that can be thought of as an answer or sequel to Stands with Death.”
This final track seemed to flow well from the last one by The Dark Red Seed. For the first two minutes it’s a spellcasting piece of spectral ambient music with an ominous undercurrent and a spoken-word sample in place of vocals. And then it catches fire — rushing and bounding, with a voice made of terror and torment, and with an array of intense, penetrating melodies that are alternately cruel, heart-aching, and bursting with desire. A thoroughly gripping song….
The song is denominated “I“, the first of three tracks on a new album by the French duo Nyss. Entitled Princesse Terre (Three Studies of Silence and Death), it follows a sequence of two EPs released late last year (I wrote about the second one here), and it’s set for release by Avantgarde Music on August 28.