To the millions who wait with bated breath for a new SHADES OF BLACK column each Sunday (okay, just the two of you sulking in the corner), I apologize for being a disappointment last Sunday. By the time I finished writing the two premieres we committed to do for that day, I had run out of time. In an effort to make amends, I decided to prepare what you’re now looking at.
The songs I’ve chosen here aren’t the ones I had planned to feature last Sunday. I’ll get to those, or at least some of them, next Sunday, the Dark Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise. What I have here are a few of the songs I’ve discovered since the past weekend. I’ll warn you, or titillate you in advance, that all of them are intense.
To begin, I’ve chosen “Relationship in Pieces“, the first track to be revealed from Fredagsmys, the new album by the continually evolving, persistently interesting Swedish band Vanhelga. It has been presented through a video that displays the lyrics, in Swedish.
As I am not capable of understanding Swedish and haven’t tried to ferret out an English translation, my impressions of the song are based on what I perceive to be the moods and sensations of the sounds — which are deeply ominous and convincingly spectral.
Within the pervasive abrasion of whirring chords, set to a stately drum beat, ethereal notes ring out and changing voices bring solemn intonations, scarring shrieks, soaring song. As the drum rhythm changes and the heavy bass vibrations become more urgent, the song’s intensity escalates. It is a haunting and mesmerizing experience.
Fredagsmys is set for international release on June 29th by Osmose Productions.
Personal confession: Despite the fact that I get unreservedly ebullient over music (and other things) on a daily basis, it takes a lot to make me cry. I’ve done it over the deaths of people I’ve loved, and when I’ve seen loved ones in a lot of pain, and sometimes when I’ve been in terrible pain myself. But otherwise, I guess I had that “men don’t cry” stoicism hammered into me pretty hard at a formative age. But I came damned close to tears by the time I had reached the end of this tragic yet magnificent next song, “a summons has come“, by the Canadian band Wilt.
That’s just a way of trying to describe how emotionally powerful I found the music. Oh, I should add that there are a few books and movies (but not many) that have brought tears to me eyes. One of them (the book and the movie) was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Coincidentally, Wilt’s new album, Ruin, was inspired by that book. In the band’s words, Ruin is a concept album “that explores the frailty of man and explores the feelings death, forgiveness, shame and guilt”.
The emotional force of the song derives not only from the heart-aching quality of the melodies (and most especially those traced by the high, searing and soaring trills of the lead guitar) but also from the shattering intensity of the vocals.
Ruin will be released by Vendetta Records on May 18. There’s another track from the album exclusively streaming at Invisible Oranges (here).
The first two songs above turned the frame of my mind, like practiced hands adjusting the ornate borders of a painting on the wall. After that, I really didn’t want to be shifted to another room, or allow a different light to fall on my prison. Hungarian Ygfan’s new song changed the image within the frame, but didn’t fracture the spell.
The song (also named “Ygfan“) comes with a beautifully made video, which melts into the music in a way that makes it difficult to separate the ingredients in this alloy. Pain and grief come through the music powerfully as its intensity ebbs and flows, and as the minutes pass its central guitar melody seeps inexorably under the skin (and cuts it too). The vocals, both clean and harsh, magnify both the music’s mood of somber desolation and its feeling of wrenching despair.
Ygfan’s new album is Hamvakból… (“From the Ashes”). It will be released in May by Sun & Moon Records.
If you were to search out Forest Mysticism on Metal-Archives you would be informed that they’re an Australian band who split up in 2011. But you’d also see a 2017 promo release, which would seem to conflict with the tombstone of their demise seven years ago… except the demo was originally recorded in 2011.
Well, it seems there’s more compelling evidence that Forest Mysticism isn’t dead. I’m referring to a song that appeared on April 23rd called “Hearken“, which is identified as one of two tracks on an EP of the same name that’s due for release by Cold Ways, which is the record label established by the man behind Forest Mysticism (D.), who is also the man behind Woods of Desolation.
I hadn’t been familiar with the Forest Mysticism project before hearing the new song, so I don’t know how it compares with what’s come before. This one has a predominantly surging pace, with a rambunctious and racing percussive drive, riffing that’s fiery, yet edged with moodiness, and snarling vocals that broil with their heat. Damned catchy too.
(Thanks to my Norwegian friend eiterorm for telling me about this new song.)
Gallery is the new name for a New Jersey band once known as Galare, and if that name rings a bell to those who’ve lurked at our site for a few years, it’s because I premiered two songs last year from their debut EP, and also had some positive things to say about their follow-on EP, The Cruelest Animal Vol. 1.
What I found most intriguing about Galare’s music was their surprising ability to amalgamate stylistic ingredients in ways that you probably wouldn’t expect from a young band, bending the normal conventions of black metal rather than simply copying them. They proved themselves capable of burning off the flesh from your face but also scrambling your thoughts and injecting a dose of fear into your emotional state.
Now they’ve returned under that new name with a 5-track EP entitled Eternal Night, which will be released on May 11. “Sol Beyond the Prism” is the first advance track. It strikes like a roaring storm, anchored by snapping snare rhythms. Truly harrowing screams lance out of that maelstrom, as do prominent bass machinations… but Gallery change courses more than once, without losing their fierce grip on the listener. Gloomy, frightening, pulse-quickening, and ensorceling… it’s all those things.
The Spanish band Velo Misere are a new discovery for me. Their first EP (following a 2017 eight-track demo) is Genealogía del Eterno Desasosiego, set for release on May 1, but streaming in full already. I found it enthralling.
As described on the Bandcamp page, it does indeed expel tragedy and mourning — “it talks about the annunciation of death as the supreme power, the eternal chimera in which each man tries to own his life until he’s finally forced to abdicate before the impositions of existence, and a last dialogue before the final departure and liberation.”
However, the moods of tragedy and mourning don’t depend on dirge-like plodding here, because the energy of this atmospheric black metal is often explosive, the music often panoramically sweeping; when the pace does slow, the mood is magisterial as well as crushingly ominous. The penetrating bleakness of the music instead derives from the band’s aptitude for crafting evocative and memorable melodies, and joining them with vocal expressions of sheer, anguished torture. Death looms in the music and strikes without remorse, leaving waves of incandescent grief in its wake.