I saw a meme this morning on Facebook, which read as follows: “Black Friday: Because only in America, people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.” And yes, I suppose it’s so. For some of us, however, the last thing on our minds on this day, a thing to be avoided like the second coming of the black plague, is an excursion to retail outlets of any kind. The stronger impulse is to become even more hermit-like, to hunker down in our bunkers and put the thought of voraciously consuming crowds as far away as possible.
On the other hand, getting trampled is not in itself a bad thing, and can indeed be a very welcome experience, as long as the trampling is inflicted through the earholes, and the resulting visions of turmoil are spawned by the mind rather than observed through the eyes. And so here’s a rare Friday edition of SHADES OF BLACK, probably to be followed by another one in its usual place on Sunday.
Unless I missed something, the release of Taake’s new album, Kong Vinter, was preceded by the release of only one single (“Inntrenger”), and what a fine one it was. But the entire album is now publicly available, having been released yesterday by Dark Essence Records, in physical form and as a Bandcamp download. We failed to prepare a review in advance, and I’m afraid that what I’ve written below may not merit such a word, but I do want to share my enthusiasm, along with the music stream.
You’ll get strong doses of venomous ripping and swaggering rock across these seven tracks, but the music also lurches, swings, bounces, and whirls in dervish-like displays of ecstasy. Every song is infected with melodic hooks, many of which aren’t “conventional” within the often cold and calcified norms of black metal (you’ll see what I mean right off the bat, in the brightness of the opener “Sverdets Vei”), and the tracks are also spliced with equally unconventional and sometimes off-kilter syncopated rhythms and unexpected tempo changes.
In addition to continuously getting your head moving and implanting seductive melodies of many changing moods inside it, the album also displays an eerie psychedelic quality (for want of a better term) that repeatedly surfaces in the music, often dark, dissonant, and disorienting but always fascinating.
I come back to the word “unconventional”. It has been abundantly evident for a long time now that Hoest is a masterful song-writer (and an equally accomplished performer), but this album is perhaps even more creatively exuberant and unchained in its stylistic twists and flourishes than any previous Taake release I can remember. That makes the trip through the album an intensely beguiling one. I found myself repeatedly wondering (not just from song to song but within each song), “What will come next?”, followed by, “Oh hell, that was so damned cool!”
The big finisher is “Fra Bjoergegrend mot Glemselen”, clocking in at about 10 1/2 minutes. The vocals are sparse, but this is an instrumental tour de force — an ever-changing, boisterously creative, thoroughly engrossing piece. For all the wintry chill, all the wrenching pain, and all the ferocious hatred that shrouds and fuels the strains of black metal that have propagated from the period in which Taake was born more than 20 years ago (and which haven’t disappeared from even this album), there is something life-affirming about this track. But you should listen to it anyway. 🙂
I worry a bit that because this album comes late in the year and didn’t have quite as big a promotional build-up as I expected in the run toward its release, it may fly under some people’s radars. That would be a shame. It’s the kind of late-year album that, if heard, will disrupt lots of year-end lists. It’s certainly one of my favorite albums of 2017.
Thanksgiving Day brought more than the new Taake album. It also brought details about the new Portal album, as well as a stream of its first single, “Phreqs“.
As for the details, the album’s name is Ion; it features cover art by one of my favorites, Zbigniew Bielak; it consists of nine tracks; and it will be released by Profound Lore on January 26.
As for the single, “Phreqs” is a real mind-fuck. It does have some of the rushing, maelstrom-like quality of Portal’s most terrifying creations, and the vocals are bestially cruel, but the warped riffs, frenzied note flurries, and changing drum rhythms stand out with clarity. In their intricacy, the instrumental performances have a labyrinthine and freakish quality, but the repetition of patterns creates grooves that burrow into the head, and the ending underscores the otherworldly atmosphere that you realize has been there all along. It’s really quite excellent.
A new Black Altar song is always welcome, but this one is perhaps even more enticing than usual. Take a look at the line-up of artists who participated in its recording along with the band’s sole creator, Shadow:
Shadow – vocals
James Stewart (Vader) – drums
Michał – guitars, bass
V. Priest (Acherontas) – guest vocals
Acerbus (Ondskapt) – guest vocals
Sorath Northgrove (Beastcraft) – guest vocals
Nihil (Furia) – sound engineering, sample fx, mix and mastering
The song is “Tophet“, and it’s presented here through a video that was filmed in London, Poland, the U.S., and Sweden. The video latches onto the song’s occult qualities, which are themselves prominent within the often dissonant music and the manifold vocal textures, yet in addition to being strange and mystical, the song is also a roller-coaster ride — rhythmically dynamic and constantly veering between outbursts of wild rampaging; bouts of stomping, syncopated groove; fusillades of head-hammering brutality; and blood-freezing passages of ritual miasma.
“Tophet” is one of 12 tracks on a Black Altar split with Beastcraft entitled Winds ov Decay / Occult Ceremonial Rites, which will be released by Odium Records on November 30 (as an 8-panel digipack CD with a 16-page booklet, in a gatefold black 180g LP edition, and in a limited-edition wooden box (limited to 50 copies) that includes the CD, a red vinyl, two t-shirts, patch, pin, posters, and rarities concerning Black Altar). It features cover art by Néstor Avalos.
On November 11 the French black/doom band Mourning Dawn released a split wth the Canadian black metal band Mausoleum, with the Mourning Dawn side entitled Drain Life’s Bitter Cup to the Last Drop… I’m not familiar with the band’s previous releases, but Metal-Archives lists three albums and five shorter releases, including a 2017 EP named Waste.
The three tracks on Mourning Dawn’s part of the split are all substantial, each of them between 10 and 11 minutes in length. Each one is anchored by slow or mid-paced, doom-stricken riffs that become embedded in memory through repetition, and also become the subject of variations on the theme that just sink them deeper into the head.
With those anchors in place, Mourning Dawn spin off in different directions before returning to the anchor points — sometimes blazing away in episodes of shattering violence, sometimes falling even more deeply into troughs of crushing loss and oppressive gloom, sometimes weaving spells of ethereal, melancholy beauty, sometimes creating disturbing visions of surreal terror. The vocals change as well, and in all their wild manifestations they heighten the music’s anguished intensity.
Bleakness always reigns supreme in this music, regardless of whether the band are in full-on crush-the-life-out-of-you mode, or venting the kind of intense emotional pain that becomes mind-splintering, or have entered a spectral realm where you might feel the cold breath of lost souls on your neck. But man, it’s an enthralling, pitch-black experience they have created here.