SHADES OF BLACK (PART 3): KRALLICE, NIGHTGRAVE, PLAGUE WIDOW, SAMMATH, ULTHA
I posted the first two parts of an extra-large SHADES OF BLACK column on Sunday, intending to post the third part yesterday after first arranging all the music in alphabetical order by band name and then dividing the collection into three segments. I obviously didn’t get the final segment finished — mainly because it contains the most music of all three parts, with four complete albums or EPs in addition to a new video.
Perhaps needless to say, I haven’t written in detail everything I’d like to say about all four of the complete releases, but I hope I’ve written enough to lure you into listening for yourself.
On Friday of last week, without much advance fanfare and no musical teasers, Krallice released their seventh album, Loüm. It’s available as a digital download now, and orders can also now be placed for CD and LP editions. It includes lead vocals, lead synths, and lead lyrics throughout the album by Dave Edwardson of Neurosis, as well as painted cover art by Carl Auge.
The individual talents of Mick Barr, Colin Marston, Nick McMaster, and Lev Weinstein are by now thoroughly well-known, far and wide, as is their tendency (and ability) to shoot off on what might seem like their own tangents within Krallice’s songs and then suddenly meld again, working in harness to change the motion and mood of the song — before arcing off into a different sequence of seemingly independent excursions, only to rapidly coalesce again. All of those talents and tendencies are richly on display in Loüm.
The opening track “Etemenanki” is a tour de force of instrumental creativity and dexterity, a display of acrobatics and razor-sharp coordination, fueled by a palpable exuberance that becomes infectious. As wild as it is, it’s also strangely trance-inducing. The follow-on track, “Rank Mankind”, is just as much a kind of instrumental obstacle course or challenge, but comes across as a darker, heavier, more dissonant, and slightly less feverish exercise.
“Rank Mankind” ends in a gloomy passage that sounds like the ringing in of the apocalypse, but that lull is quickly blasted to smithereens by “Retrogenesis”, the shortest track on the album and one that meshes together electrifying derangement and a brooding brutishness, providing a hell-bound amalgam of pre-meditated murder and maniacal execution (a kind of juxtaposition that the vocals further enhance).
Doom and gloom hang heavy over the title track, too, but it’s a hallucinatory experience, patterned with eruptions of explosive percussion and twisted guitar frenzies. The bass and guitar notes in the song almost sound like voices in a conversation among maniacs and beasts, but shivering, chiming melodies appear like apparitions, and in the middle there’s an unexpected solo guitar interlude that proves to be a bridge to an instrumental starburst that seems ebullient rather than insane (though things do get thoroughly insane again, right up through the jarring cacophony of abrasive sounds that draw the track to a close).
I don’t know the meaning of the word “Loüm“, and Googling hasn’t solved the mystery, but I do recognize the name Kronus, the leader of the Titans who overthrew his father Uranus, the sky, and was in turn overthrown by his own offspring Zeus (who eluded Kronus’ child-devouring ways) and was imprisoned by Zeus in Tartarus.
And I mention that because the closing track of this new release is “Kronus Deposed”, a piece of music that does sound like a kind of mythic warfare fought with sorcery and savagery beyond primitive human understanding. It partakes of a blood-lusting and bone-breaking ferocity, underscored by the roaring vocals, as well as mind-bending displays of instrumental pyrotechnics. The music ratchets the tension almost ceaselessly, with a passage of dual-guitar swarming that’s pure attention-riveting lunacy. And there is no resolution… as if to say, this warring between sons and fathers is a loop that will never end.
How to succinctly sum up the album? How about this: It’s astonishing.
P.S. Krallice also plan to release their eighth album, Go Be Forgotten, before year-end. It will be released on vinyl by Gilead Media and on CD by Hathenter. I’ll probably pounce on that one as quickly as I did this one.
Nightgrave is the experimental black/doom project of Sushant Rawat, aka Nium, from New Delhi, India. I had some very positive things to say here about Nightgrave’s last release, Futures, in July, and now there’s already a new album. This one, released on October 20, is named Echo.
The Bandcamp stream of the album is set to begin with the fourth track of the album, and if you only have time to sample one song, that’s a fine choice — it might be the most viscerally gripping of all the tracks. But I would really recommend you start at the beginning, because “Furrows of Fire and Ice” is so thoroughly captivating… and then just stay engaged for everything else that follows it.
It’s not the kind of album opener that rockets ahead, using an adrenaline surge to hook the listener. Instead, it ensnares the listener in a dream… before puncturing your eardrums in a cacophonous explosion and then surging and slowing in a strange progression of energies, part rampant discord, part mesmerization. It’s a mercurial composition and a challenging listen — even the drum rhythms are out of the ordinary. But it’s so intense, so disorienting, and ultimately so sublime that, at least for this listener, I was sold on the album without hearing anything more.
But there is, of course, much more, and it’s no more predictable or familiar than the first track. I suppose, in one sense, the entire album could be thought of as a chilling dreamscape. It doesn’t seem quite real, in part because the changing tonalities of the music are so out of the ordinary, but also because the manifold changes that occur are so sharp, so unexpected, and so varied.
On one extreme, the music is catastrophic in its chaotic, bone-mangling, and blood-freezing intensity. On the other, it is a gleaming mist that passes through your head, like the luminescent vapors of lost souls, or the superheated gasses of brilliant distant nebulae. And there’s much else that lies between these extremes, though it’s much more dark than joyful in its emotion cast.
The vocals occupy very little time in this largely instrumental album, but they’re not predictable either, though they’re mainly horrific, serrated growls and howls.
I really can’t think of anything else that sounds like Echo. It’s remarkably distinctive and creative, and almost impossible to pin down in words. So just listen!
It has been a long time coming, but Plague Widow have released a new EP named Despair. it comes five years after their self-titled demo, which I reviewed here, and four years after their last release, a split with Oblivionized titled This Black Earth.
My comrade DGR first introduced me to Plague Widow since he and they once shared oxygen (and carbon monoxide) in Sacramento, California. But in the years that have rolled by since then, there have been line-up changes and a relocation to Oakland. Plague Widow signed with Willowtip Records in 2013 and have been working on a new album since then. With that work still in progress, they decided to release this EP, which consists of previously unreleased demo tracks recorded in 2015.
You had better take some deep breaths before getting into this EP because Plague Widow won’t give you much chance for one after you begin. That’s not to say that everything is fast and furious — though rampant, battering destructiveness is certainly a hallmark of the music. Instead, the music takes your breath away even when the pace isn’t going full-out, simply because it’s so utterly dark, so berserk in its twists and turns, and so persistently interesting.
The music is a fiery stew of black metal, death metal, grind, and crust, yet it’s also technically impressive and so idiosyncratic that it might even bring visions of Krallice or Pyrrhon to mind, if those were more grind-oriented bands.
Most of the songs on this EP are only about one minute long, but the closer “Drowning Within the Abyss” tops six minutes. I love the short tracks, because they’re such amazing displays of how much movement can be packed within the blink of an eye, but “Drowning Within the Abyss” is a very impressive track simply because it provides the kind of room that allows the band to take a different turn, to really work on the listener’s emotions like a big excavating machine in a quarry, breaking them down so that only despondency and despair remain. And then it settles like a great weight on your chest, until you can’t breathe at all.
Despair is available digitally now at Bandcamp, and you can pre-order a cassette tape edition here.
The next item I chose for this collection is a new video by the long-running Dutch black metal band Sammath. It’s a recording of a live rehearsal performance of a song called “Stalingrad” off the band’s Dodengang album, which was released in 2006 by Folter Records. This video includes the band’s new drummer Wim van der Valk (Inquisitor, ex-Centurion), as well as original composer/vocalist/guitarist Jan Kruitwagen and bassist Ruud Nillisen.
This is, pure and simple, a rough and raw torrent of untrammeled destructiveness, part barbaric savagery and part ice-cold lethality. It hammers with staggering force and rips with bestial ferocity. But in its slower movements, it’s cloaked in otherworldly gloom and demonic peril. You can wrench your neck banging your head to this track, but it might freeze the blood in your veins too. And the rough, abrading quality of the rehearsal-room sound actually makes this rhythmically dynamic song even more viscerally compelling.
P.S. Sammath’s Facebook page indicates that they are continuing with work on the sixth album, which should be ready for release in 2018.
At last we come to the end of this gigantic SHADES OF BLACK installment, with Ultha coming last simply because I chose to arrange everything in alphabetical order.
In March of 2016 I posted (here) an interview of this then-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 in 2015 and was then re-released in April 2016 by Translation Loss Records. And then later that same year I also reviewed the band’s new EP, Dismal Ruins, and their split-release tribute to Bathory with Morast (here), and that was followed by Andy Synn’s review of their second album, Converging Sins.
In other words, we’ve written about everything the band have released so far — and now, in one fell swoop, they’ve made two more releases. The first is Woe Over Roadburn, a live recording of the band’s performance at that festival earlier this year, and the second is a split with the French black metal band Paramnesia. For that split, Ultha recorded an 18-minute song called “The Seventh Sorrow“, and interestingly, that song also happens to be one of the three long ones captured live on Woe Over Roadburn.
Ultha are no strangers to long songs, but 18 minutes is obviously the kind of unusually vast and wide-open space that presents challenges as well as opportunities (not Bell Witch long, but still…). And Ultha really make remarkably good use of all that space in time. The music builds in intensity, becoming more and more deeply gloomy, grand, and incinerating in its feeling of despair. The rising quality of the clean vocals signifies anguish rather than triumph, the growls manifest horror more than rage, and the skin-splitting howls are so excruciating that they betray no hope for any kind of future.
Mesmerizing at first, the song turns into a bracing torrent of heart-rupturing power, the main melody becoming absolutely riveting in its raw, emotional strength. The drums blast away like automatic weaponry, the bass thrums like rolling thunder, and the layered guitar work sets a fire that burns ever more fiercely, a conflagration driven by a gale.
I’ll also warn you that when a band this good give themselves 18 minutes to use with their melodic themes, you’re not going to forget them. As each minute passes, even with the changes of pace and the variations in themes, they carve the core melodies into your brain like a knife-made scar. This song really is a magnificent achievement.
Both of these new releases are available on Bandcamp, and the split will also be released on vinyl by Vendetta Records (Germany), on CD by Les Actéurs De L’Ombre (France), and on tape by Tartarus Records (Netherlands). Paramnesia’s 19-minute contribution to the split can be heard here, though I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to it myself.