OUR LIST OF 2017’S MOST INFECTIOUS EXTREME METAL SONGS (PART 18): WITCHERY, WODE, CRAFTEON, GRAVE CIRCLES, OBSCURE DEVOTION, TYAKRAH
This is the second installment of the list today, with two more coming on the final day tomorrow. And once again, because time is running out, I’m loading up this post, with six songs from six great 2017 releases.
Anyone who has followed our putrid site over the 8+ years of our existence has no doubt noticed our continually increasing attraction to black metal, and so it should come as no surprise that in one of these final parts of this latest MOST INFECTIOUS SONG list I’ve decided to focus on shades of black, beginning with a name that surely every metalhead knows, and then moving into increasingly more obscure releases that are deserving of greater attention.
“North” is a direction that figures prominently in the trajectory of black metal, perhaps most famously in Darkthrone’s magnificent A Blaze In the Northern Sky. Sweden’s Witchery aligned their own compass to “True North” in the first song I’ve chosen for this post. It comes from their eighth album, I Am Legion.
When the song first appeared, it was presented in a wonderful animated video created by Niklas Sundin (Cabin Fever Media). Launched by music that still puts me in mind of Tubular Bells, the song is a bit of a switch for the band — a cold, gloomy, sinister, mid-paced stomp that eventually begins to flicker, swirl, and catch fire. It’s an eerie chiller, with a chorus in which Angus Norder gives demonic expression to the song title, and that may make you want to wreck your vocal chords singing along.
As Andy Synn noted in his review of this Mancunian band’s second album, they changed their sound in significant ways after their wonderful self-titled debut. As he explained:
“But whereas the self-titled channelled the misty phantoms of early Emperor and their ilk into a truly majestic display of sombre, moody melody and savage, blackened bite, their second album errs towards the riffier, more death-tinged sound of Dissection and Necrophobic, making for an unexpected, though not necessarily unpleasant, shift in style.
“It’s not only the focus of the band’s sound which has changed somewhat either. The focus of their songwriting is different too, resulting in a collection of shorter, sharper, and snappier tracks (the epic “Chaosspell” notwithstanding) which together amount to a little over thirty-one minutes’ worth of malevolent musical mayhem.”
And speaking of short, sharp, snappy tracks, “Celestial Dagger” is a prime example. I will say that “Chaosspell” is my favorite track on Servants of the Countercosmos, but I do think “Celestial Dagger” is the one that belongs on this list. Loosen your neck muscles and press play below.
You would fall asleep from exhaustion before completing the count of metal bands who’ve taken thematic inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, but you will not doze when listening to the music of Crafteon.
Their debut album, Cosmic Reawakening, is pure Lovecraft devotion. Their lyrics remain as true as possible to the original text of each Lovecraft short story that inspired them, and beyond that, the music puts the shiver on your skin. But the music is also powerfully seductive.
The lyrics of “What the Moon Brings” are indeed Lovecraftian in their evocation of blood-chilling horror, and the music effectively captures the terrifying and grandiose drama of the words, with a pulsating, yowling riff that gets its hooks in fast, and cracked, strangled vocals that are monstrously ugly and rise up in flames of delirious anguish. You hear it once, and the whole song comes back to you again with the first seconds of sound, even if you don’t hear it again until months later.
At the height of last summer I found the Ukrainian band Grave Circles. Their debut EP, Tome I, was so well-done that it made me think the members must have honed their craft in other projects before this one — or they were just astoundingly precocious. But I couldn’t find any info about the line-up’s background. Now I know a bit more about this duo, but their relatively limited background in other groups suggests the “astoundingly precocious” guess is the better one.
With a clear, powerful production, the EP delivers chest-cracking rhythmic force and thoroughly gripping guitar work, with grim, growling vocals that are heartless, and shrieks that are incinerating. The wonderfully dynamic music is fiery, bombastic, sweepingly grand, painfully stricken, and sometimes perched on the edge of madness. It moves from warlike frenzies to declarations of triumph to anguished dirges — and the movements are in near-constant flux, but never lose their cohesiveness.
Beautifully composed and performed with impressive skill, it’s an EP that I thought belonged on an evolving list of the year’s best short releases, and I still feel that way. The song I chose from it for this list is “Transfixing Inward the Human Essence“.
Every now and then I come across a “one hit wonder” that makes this list, i.e., one hugely infectious song from an album that really doesn’t have any other serious candidates. But most of the time, when I find one song that digs its hooks in my head, the album from whence it comes includes others with really sharp claws. That was definitely true of Ubi Certa Pax Est, the third album by the Italian band Obscure Devotion.
The full album is a fascinating trip. My favorite track is probably the unusually titled “On Butterfly Wings”, which is a great example of Obscure Devotion’s approach to dynamically melding different styles and sounds. It moves through so many dramatically different musical terrains, yet surprisingly holds together to form a captivating musical tour. But it isn’t the song I picked for this list.
And I guess that’s a point worth repeating: This list is about “most infectious” songs, and not necessarily “best songs”. And here, “The Sign of Pain” is the one I’ve concluded belongs on this list. The lyric video for the song is below. The music is grim and dark, jolting and jarring, vicious and vibrant, and the tendrils of sorcerous, fluid melody that push to the surface help cement the song’s memorability. The song’s final minute will also give your headbang reflexes a good workout.
“Fierce” and “frigid” are by-words of Nordic black metal, and in their debut album Wintergedanken the German black metal duo Tyakrah embraced the cold and unforgiving white-outs of winter in forested and craggy northern climes. But their music is also solemn, and also glorious — achieving the kind of reverent and soaring spirit that justifies that well-worn term “epic”.
The album track “Gefrorne Tränen” is one that we premiered, and it’s one that I’ve remembered many months later. In a genre that is so often thought of as harsh and heartless, the lead guitar performances that appear and reappear throughout this song peal, echo, swirl, and soar in displays of inspiring and even breathtaking beauty, sometimes as gleaming and crystalline as ice and sometimes a blaze of incandescence. Yet, their appeal is made even more dramatic and powerful by the abrasiveness and wintry bleakness of the music and the voices that provide the setting for them.
I would think it’s impossible not to be moved by this multifaceted song. It has stayed with me, and has become a kind of refuge as well.
I still listen to that Wode constantly. Such a great record and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
You guys have introduced me to so much great black metal and now I can add Crafteon to that list,
Glad you’re digging them. That whole album is really solid.