SHADES OF BLACK (PART 2): NIGHTGRAVE, GYRE OF INCANDESCENTS, TRAUTONIST, ELÄNDE, NORNAHETTA
The second part of this Sunday’s SHADES OF BLACK post, which I began here, includes a lot of music — four complete releases. The last of them isn’t as “hot off the presses” as most of what I choose for these columns. But you’ll understand why I picked it when you get there.
If the name Nightgrave is familiar, it might be because I’ve written some very positive impressions in this column about both Nightgrave’s last album Echo (2017) and the one before that, Futures, (also 2017). Not one to let much grass grow under his feet, Nightgrave’s creator (Sushant Rawat, aka Nium, from New Delhi, India) has already released another album. This one, entitled Nascent, appeared on February 14.
I’m regularly impressed by the recordings of one-person black metal bands, but even in the case of releases I enjoy, it’s rare to find one in which all the roles are well-performed. There’s usually some weakness in the drumming (or drum programming), or in the vocals, or in the production, even if the drawbacks aren’t serious enough to significantly diminish the overall appeal of the music. One impressive aspect of Nightgrave’s music, I’ve found, is the strength displayed across all aspects of the music.
But what continues to stand out most on Nascent, as it has on the previous releases but perhaps most impressively here, is Nightgrave’s creative combination of different musical styles, instrumental layers, electronic and acoustic accents, and vocal expressions (both harsh and haunting) to produce changing moods and energies.
I listen to the music, and I can’t help but think of natural phenomena, like the changing shades of light and dark produced by clouds rushing across the face of the sun or wind-tossed leaves and limbs altering the cast of shadows on a forest floor, or the way that moving water gleams, grows dark, or froths as it meanders around bends, dips through deeper channels, or rushes violently over rocky declines.
In that way, Nascent moves through passages that are spine-shaking in their heaviness and harrowing in their bleakness, but also others in which brightness falls from the sky. Feelings of abandonment and staggering loss take an emotional toll as you listen; visions of mystical beauty also unfold before the mind’s eye. The songs get the pulse racing in displays of hammering, sand-blasting destructiveness, but just as effectively bend your thoughts to wistful memories of lost friends or the agony of terrible mistakes. Despite such varying experiences, there’s also a natural flow to the album as it unfolds, from beginning to end.
Nightgrave has packed a lot of meticulously nuanced, emotionally powerful music — and a lot of minutes — into Nascent, but I found it quite easy to become immersed in it, a willing passenger on a dark, fascinating trip.
GYRE OF INCANDESCENTS
I received a link to the self-titled debut album by the part-Finnish, part-Canadian band Gyre of Incandescents from my friend Miloš. It turned out to be one of those albums where I had trouble getting past the opening track, which was so powerfuly attractive that I kept listening to it before finally making my way to the other three.
“Unseen” is still a favorite, a mid-paced, head-nodding song with a brooding, rising and falling, central riff that’s absolutely magnetic. When the song’s simple but compulsive drumbeat disappears and the guitar rings out a high, lonesome cry in the midst of chiming and abrading reverberations, it becomes absolutely magical.
The combination of that high, clear lead-guitar tone (which reappears later, and which made me think of a bottleneck-slide or steel guitar) and the raw-black-metal cragginess of the riffs (not to mention the rough beast-like timbre of the vocals) works extremely well. Not a happy song by any means, it nevertheless leaves me smiling with admiration every time I hear it.
As it turns out, all these gifts are also on display in the other two tracks on the album — a gift for crafting sorrowful, soulful melodies that get stuck in the head really damned fast; a gift for lashing the listener with grim but hook-y riffs; a gift for channeling grit and grime, grievous agony and fearsome fury, through the vocals; a gift for keeping the drum rhythms mainly simple (though with judicious use of blast-beat barrages); and a gift for bringing a beguiling brightness to these depressive and sometimes dreamlike odes through such wonderful guitar leads.
The final track is a cover of a song by the long-running Canadian black metal band Akitsa off a 2004 split with Nocternity. I haven’t yet listened to the original, but what Gyre of Incandescents do with it fits beautifully with the first three tracks, even though the vocals change to the kind of tortured, mind-scarring shrieks that seem most prevalent in DSBM.
I have become enslaved to this EP.
Gyre of Incandescents was released by the Polish label Wolfspell Records on March 20.
As a previous purchaser of Bandcamp releases by Pest Productions, I received a flurry of Bandcamp e-mail alerts this morning which notified me that Pest had launched no fewer than four new releases in one fell swoop. I paused only long enough to check out one of them, and decided it would fit well in this post, in this place just following the Gyre of Incandescents EP.
I chose to check out the one by the German band Trautonist because I have such good memories of their 2016 self-titled debut album (which I reviewed and premiered here). The song that’s up on Bandcamp now is “Fire and Ember“, which is the first single from their new album Ember, set for release on May 1.
As before, Trautonist employ elements of black metal, post-punk, and shoegaze in ways that should appeal to fans of such bands as Lantlôs and Celeste, replete with soaring vocals and soaring, sweeping, shining melodies, a compulsive bass-and-drum drive, and a melancholy mood — which turns agonized as shrieking vocals appear, and a more desolate and beleaguered mood settles over the melody.
While I was in Reykjavik at Oration Fest a couple of weeks ago I was introduced to drummer Trish Kolsvart, who has contributed her talents to an extensive array of bands, most of them black metal, and many of which I’ve written about here in the past. The conversation was quite enjoyable, and led me to discover both the release I’m turning to next and the last one in this collection.
This one is Dödens Rike, the debut album of Elände, a two-person band based in Gothenburg, Sweden, joined here by Trish on drums. Before this, Elände had released a 2011 demo and a 2015 split (Invokation) with Svärta. Dödens Rike was released through Craneo Negro Records on February 13, 2018.
The whirring melodies and buzzing riffs have a generally grim and gloomy cast, although they prove to be alluring as well as bleak, and the chilling atmosphere in the air turns often enough to a boiling, wolf-like fury, giving Trish K. the opportunity to pull the trigger on furious fusillades of double-bass, blistering bursts of blast-beat mayhem, and tumbling tom rolls.
Even in a boil, the music is cold — and cruel. And speaking of cruelty, the caustic, goblin-like vocals are full of wickedness and hate.
There are exceptions, but it seems that most musicians in Iceland’s burgeoning black metal sector are members of more than one band. As a participant in Misþyrming, Naðra, Carpe Noctem, and Grafir, Tómas Ísdal seems to be one of the most prolific. According to this extensive 2016 article on Icelandic black metal that appeared in The Reykjavik Grapevine, he is also the man behind Nornahetta.
From 2012 through 2015, Nornahetta released a quartet of EPs that were later collected in a 2016 compilation called The Psilocybin Tapes. I paid some attention to that latter release here at our site, but failed until now to focus on the most recent Nornahetta release, a July 2017 EP named Synesthetic Pareidolia. I finally caught up to it after learning that Trish Kolsvart was the drummer on the album.
Synesthetic Pareidolia is a single 16-minute track, accurately described in accompanying PR materials as “Unremittingly ugly, restlessly roiling, and yet somehow imbued with preternatural nuance”. It’s further described as music that’s “largely-improvised”, and “strive[s] for the outer reaches of the subconscious through psychedelic means.”
I could best describe it is a vortex of harrowing sound and fury, a breathtaking and mind-bending assault on the senses. The drumming alone is breathtaking, both in its speed and agility and in the full-force explosiveness of its power. The bass lines are also jet-fast and nimble, while the gales of guitar abrasion and utter lunacy channeled through the leads have the effect of a shock-and-awe campaign.
There are a few breaks in the otherwise unrelenting and unhinged barbarism of this barrage (there is no mercy at all in the bestial ugliness of the vocals), but the appeal of the music lies in this duo’s success in creating a truly cataclysmic, no-holds-barred, sanity-splintering experience. It’s so electrifying, and so frighteningly uncaged, that I suspect you’ll completely lose track of time, as I did.
Elände är jävligt bra, to put it in Swedish.
Nightgrave is so diverse. Great stuff.
Elande was so good i listened to it all twice in a row.