There’s a mountain of black music in today’s column — five full releases, the shortest of which is more than 20 minutes long. Moreover, one of those releases is a single song that itself tops 20 minutes in length. I don’t expect everyone to make their way through all of this; tastes do vary, as does the amount of time people are prepared to set aside for the exploration of new music. Recognizing that, I’ve provided previews of the music (at least as I hear it), and in the case of the releases other than the two that consist of long-form monoliths, I’ve selected specific songs that I think provide a good test for whether you’ll like the rest of what’s there.
Eternal Throne is the debut EP by a Swedish black metal band (from Malmö) named Plaguestorm. According to the two labels who are releasing it (Helter Skelter and Blood Harvest), it was recorded in 2015 but is only now being released for the first time due to unspecified “hardships and delays”. Their description of the music peaked my interest:
Eternal Throne, they wrote, “features four tracks in 21 minutes, where all possible aspects of black metal is being mixed into one, big gruesome bowl where everything from the classic guitar leads of Mercyful Fate, and the chaotic mayhem of Katharsis has its righteous place”.
The transition from the hymn into the ripping, whirling, rocking rush of the opening track (“Marked By the Scythe”) is outstanding. That track provides an immediate, electrifying display of the band’s talent for amalgamating wild savagery, scintillating melodic leads and soloing, explosive head-heaving riffs, and dynamic, adrenaline-triggering drum-and-bass work.
The rest of the tracks are just as good, confirming Plaguestorm‘s skill at seamlessly integrating different strains of heavy metal goodness, while varying the pace and mood, into a framework of flesh-rending black metal. I’m very hard-pressed to pick a favorite — because the whole EP is brilliant — but have selected the title track for your taste-test. On top of everything else, it achieves an anthemic kind of grandeur — and it’s fiendishly infectious.
A vinyl edition of Eternal Throne is projected for release on July 9, but a digital edition was made available yesterday.
CLOAK OF ALTERING
The prolific Maurice de Jong (aka Mories) has his fingers in a lot of musical pies, none of them designed to appeal to mass tastes. Even as catholic as my own tastes are, all of his manifold projects don’t equally appeal to me. But I try to at least taste-test each of his releases because he has proven to be a uniquely twisted musical genius.
Of all his solo projects, Cloak of Altering has probably been my most consistent favorite. And so I did more than just taste-test Cloak of Altering’s new album, I Reached For the Light That Drowned In Your Mouth (and what a great title that is) — though I didn’t get to it nearly as quickly as I should have.
The album was first released early in 2017, digitally and on cassette, but was then digitally re-released again in January of this year after Mories remixed and remastered it. And more recently (on April 25th) it was released on CD by Grey Matter Noise, which is what finally pushed me to give the album a proper listen.
The brief introductory track is glorious, and what comes after is completely riveting, though frequently unnerving — a grand and grotesque hybrid of black metal, industrial, glitchy electronica, jazz, and more. Mories persistently twists and turns the music in unexpected directions — starting and stopping, erupting in rocket-fast flurries, gliding into mesmerizing interludes, ejecting tendrils of freakish melody and bursts of jarring discordance, his vocals veering from crocodilian growls to livid shrieks, from anguished yells to mad barks to robotic ramblings.
The palate of sounds (both percussive and melodic) is rich, and the creative exuberance that comes through in the changing patterns of the music is head-spinning. Every track here is extravagant, some of them more torrential and some of them more hallucinatory than others. The one I’ve picked for your own taste-test is “Stitches In Reality”.
I have a guilt-ridden confession to make: I’m always in a hurry in almost everything I do, but especially in looking for new music to share at NCS. And so when I see releases that include long-form tracks, I tend to shy away from them. In the time it takes to listen to a 15- or 20-minute track, I could check out songs from three or four other bands.
And besides, in my experience it’s a rarity for anyone to do something that long and still maintain a grip on the listener all the way to the end. Having said that, I’ll admit that when musicians can pull off that trick, the emotional impact and the effect on the imaginations of listeners can be deeper and more powerful than what you might experience listening to multiple tracks of average length. Enscelados have pulled off that trick on their single-song EP, The Devouring God (released on April 30).
Obviously, I didn’t shy away from this 23-minute track — but I was ready to move away from it without a backward glance if it failed to make a connection after a few minutes. Man, did it make a connection. The music is fascinating to the point of being spellbinding. It takes almost two minutes before the song begins to flower from its initial shroud of disorienting abrasion, and the flowering is itself disconcerting.
A shroud of abrasive sound encompasses the entire track, becoming more and less loud as the riffing rushes full-throttle or gives way to a shimmering ambience. Other changes manifest themselves through the movements from high-speed percussive rumble to more stately rhythms or no rhythms at all, and from the cresting of celestial voices to the brain-scarring effect of torturous shrieking. The music has the quality of a journey through the vast reaches of space, both glorious and intrinsically hostile, or perhaps a trip through the archetypes of myth in which titanic powers beyond our comprehension consume the world and make a new one.
Thanks to Miloš for linking me to this release. And in case you’re wondering, the cover art is “Saturn Devouring His Son”, a 1636 painting by Peter Paul Rubens (drained of color). Here are the lyrics:
Souls are drowned in the ever-rotating continuum
Alas, for they knew not of the end…
Tears are shed for whom the devouring god awaits
Ululating for eons, those who went…
Rites will be held for him once again
Never will they know, for all will remain unraveled…
THE NIGHTLY DISEASE
This next item is the second release that I chose to include in today’s column which includes long-form compositions — two of them. In this instance, the first song didn’t intrigue me quite as quickly as the Enscelados track; in this instance I stayed with it because of a recommendation I received from my Norwegian friend eiterorm, whose tastes have proven to align well with my own. And once again, he didn’t steer me wrong with The Nightly Disease.
Smell of Burning Wood is the mesmerizing debut release of this atmospheric black metal solo project (whose geographic location is unknown to me), brought forth by Naturmacht Productions on May 10th. The album is a two-part opus that draws you within its cold embrace through the beautiful acoustic-guitar opening of the first track and the moody yet immediately beguiling riff that follows it. Slow and stately, that first track is undergirded by a current of deep, heavy sound and accented by the contrast of piercing, ethereal tones. Your head nods reflexively, your imagination is transported to an isolated place of endless winter where your own dark thoughts and the gleam of ice in the firelight are your only companions.
More wood needs to be chopped to feed the fire before the second track can get under way, and that takes a couple of minutes, as the wind howls in the background. This time, desolate piano chords and a wistful arpeggio of white and black notes take the place of the acoustic guitar as the music gradually begins to unfold while our protagonist trudges through the ice-encrusted ground. When the heavy guitar and the pound of the drums come in, it sounds like the skitter and scratch of a violin is with them… a bowing that becomes increasingly soulful and enthralling as the music mounts in power. It is a bewitching and beautiful lament, this song.
I should mention that there are no vocals on the album. They would only get in the way.
If you’re a persistent lurker at our site on Sundays, you will have seen the name Raat before — back in mid-March, to be specific, when I covered Raat’s debut EP, Selfless.
In case you did miss that, Raat is the solo project of Sushant Rawat (aka Nium) from New Delhi, India, who is also the man behind the experimental black/doom project Nightgrave. He didn’t allow much grass to grow over the mental furrows plowed by Selfless before following it with this new EP, Ethereal Twilight, which was released on April 14th.
As before, this new EP adheres to few genre constraints. In the instrumental opening track, “Ataraxia”, Raat embroiders the music with acoustic strumming, gleaming guitar melodies, cosmic keyboard tones, and the sound of deep symphonic strings to go along with viscerally powerful rhythmic drives. It has an otherworldly resonance that carries through into the follow-on tracks, even though they’re heavier and darker, thanks in part to the wrenching impact of the harsh vocals and the bleak emotional weight of the melodies.
The volume of the music ebbs and flows, and Raat adds and subtracts musical textures, as well as moving the mood of the music in more and less devastating, more and less cosmic, directions. There is often a sense of unfathomable mystery in the music (perhaps most pronounced in “Intemerate”), as well as crushing despair (as in the beginning of “Stygian”, before it transforms into something more wistful).
Though these four tracks are thematically linked, no two of them are cut from exactly the same cloth. The one I selected for your taste-test here is the last one, “Wash Away”. Despite the fact that it has no obvious traditional connections to black metal until things get immensely heavier and more disturbingly brooding at about the six-minute mark, and features clean vocals rather than harsh ones, I found myself hypnotized by it.