My NCS time has been constricted by other activities this weekend, so I won’t have time to prepare the usual Sunday SHADES OF BLACK column, but to (sort of) make up for that I did decide to focus on black metal in this 15th Part of my Most Infectious Song list. And I also decided to pack five songs into this installment rather than the usual smaller number.
Hope you enjoy these choices, especially because it was so tough for me to pick just one song from each of the albums released by these bands last year. I think they make a pretty damned powerful playlist.
I delivered an impulsive though compact review of Kong Vinter very soon after listening to it for the first time, and proclaimed it one of my favorite albums of 2017. My impression now, two months later, is that it was under-appreciated in the froth of year-end lists, perhaps because it came out so late in the year and was preceded by the release of only one single (“Inntrenger”).
I still think it’s a wonderful album, creatively exuberant and unchained in its stylistic twists and flourishes, many of which aren’t “conventional” within the often cold and calcified norms of black metal. In fact, I would go so far as to say that no one song on the album represents the album as a whole.
“Jernhaand” isn’t the most surprising or interesting song on Taake’s new album, but it is the one I’ve found most “infectious”. It seethes and burns all the way through, the drums blasting almost non-stop, the dismal and demonic riffs rising and falling and drilling through the listener’s skull, while Hoest’s voice rasps and rakes in a fury. The repeating sequence of riffs isn’t complex, but it damned sure is electrifying (and memorable).
Last April I had the good fortune of being asked to premiere Titahion: Kaos Manifest, the new album by the Ukrainian heathen black metal band Ulvegr. It was a piece of good luck because I’m not sure I otherwise would have paid attention to the album, and it turned out to be very, very good, for reasons I attempted to explain in a review accompanying the premiere.
In that review I recommended “She, Who Grants Sufferings” as the song that people should choose if they just wanted to sample a single track, because it pulls together almost all of the album’s different dimensions into a unified whole. But it’s “Throne Among the Void” that I picked for this list, because it’s more “infectious”, while still exhibiting the intensity that’s part of what makes the album so compelling.
Listening to it is like being immersed in fire, enveloped in powerful waves of fierce tremolo riffing and sweeping keyboards that give the music a mystical atmosphere, and propelled by a powerful and dynamic drum attack. The vocals in the song — as they are throughout the album — are terrifying. Helg and his guests have created bedlam with their voices, as if different characters are appearing in a play, but all of them tortured, insane, or inhuman.
P.S. As Karon helpfully pointed out in the Comments to this post (I hate you Karon!), this is actually the second time that Ulvegr has appeared on this list, for the same song. It’s possible that I made this embarrassing error because Ulvegr happens to be at the front of my mind… because Ulvegr will be releasing a new album on January 30… and because if you come back to NCS tomorrow you will be able to listen to it — and you’ll be glad you did.
Selbst’s self-titled debut album was one of many represented in this list that I knew right away would have to appear here, through one song or another. In my review, I called it “a gleaming ice-blue nova in the midnight vault of 2017 black metal”. I didn’t stop there. For exaample:
“Augmented by a spectacularly powerful production, the music is titanically heavy, potent enough to rumble your core, with many of the elaborately textured sounds reverberating as if recorded in a quartzite cavern (because the music shines as well as thunders) — from the spine-rattling drumwork to the penetrating, otherworldly guitar melodies that shimmer, swirl, and soar through blanketing storms of abrasion.
“But it’s the kind of album that immaculately marries atmosphere to explosive physicality, and it also achieves a rare, knife-edge balance between the ensnaring repetition of gripping patterns and the head-spinning intricacy of progressive flourishes. The songs are in near-constant motion, in the sense of movement between differing shades of darkness, different tempos, moments of unsettling calm and terrible conflict.”
And I didn’t stop there either, but you get the idea. I loved the album — and based on its appearance on many year-end lists, a lot of other people did too.
Though the choice of songs was made difficult by the album’s consistent, and frequently infectious, quality, I picked “Despised and Forgotten“:
Nova’s Soli Contro il Mondo (“alone standing against the world”) was another album I was fortunate to get to premiere and review, because, again, I’m not sure I would have paid such close attention to it otherwise. I did write enthusiastically about the first two singles from the album (““Guerra per il Firmamento” and “Contro il Drago e il Toro“), but I might have stopped there — and I’m damned glad I didn’t, because the entire album is loaded with gems of varied hues. I thought it was one of the best black metal albums I heard in 2017.
There aren’t many moments in the album when you can sit back, close your eyes, and become meditative. Its rushing power is almost unrelenting. Yet there is no sense of sameness about the songs that might risk dulling the senses. The momentum changes; the moods change as well; and every song is so emotionally evocative that losing interest simply isn’t a risk.
The track I finally picked for this list is one of those first two singles — “Contro il Drago e il Toro“. It rips and rocks, but is also dramatic, majestic, and sorrowing in its atmosphere.
AU CHAMP DES MORTS
Dans La Joie, the debut album by the French band Au Champ Des Morts, is another one from today’s collection that we were fortunate to investigate as a result of premieres — and we did two of them, one for the title track and one for “Le Sang, La Mort, La Chute”. I found the entire album captivating, but it’s the title track I decided to add to this list. It’s one of the few you’ll find on this list that tops the 10-minute mark, because long songs don’t often meet my (admittedly subjective) criteria for “infectiousness”. This one does, easily.
To repeat what I wrote about it during the first week of 2017 (yes, it’s been out a long time):
The song “Dans La Joie” is emblematic of this band’s ability to weave immersive sonic spells with the capacity to pick up listeners and carry them away on a tide of emotional power. Over the span of its ten-minute course, the music surges with driving strength, trailing fire and black smoke, propelled by piston-like percussion and a penetrating, emotionally affecting melody that’s dark as night — with a bleak aura that’s made even more desperate by the scalding intensity of the vocals.
But that is only one face of the song’s multifaceted shape. The surging inferno breaks briefly, and the music becomes crystalline and fragile, with the vocals turning clean and somber — before rising in wrenching anguish as the music’s intensity explodes again.