(In this post Andy Synn has combined reviews of new albums by a sextet of bands from both sides of the Atlantic.)
Phew, I’ve been trying to get this particular column written for quite a while now, but a cruel convergence of work, illness, and prepping for this year’s MDF meant that I’ve honestly been struggling to find the time to sit down and put finger to keyboard.
On the plus side, however, this has given me a little bit more time to absorb each album, and will hopefully result in a better overall product, so perhaps I/we shouldn’t complain too much.
Anyway, without further ado, here are six albums, all of them Black Metal, yet all subtly different and differentiated, originating from a variety of different locations around the globe (Greece, Germany, Belgium, Canada, and the USA), which I think are well worth your attention.
ACHERONTAS – FAUSTIAN ETHOS (FORMULAS OF REPTILIAN UNIFICATION PART III)
The third (and final) part of their Formulas of Reptilian Unification Trilogy, the new Acherontas album is everything you expect it to be – eerie and ominous, visceral and numinous – and a fitting conclusion to the band’s tempestuous triptych.
It also might just be the best of the three, showcasing a renewed sense of drive and focus which can only come from a band who are all working from the exact same page in the same grand grimoire.
Tracks like pulse-quickening opener “The Fall of the First Pillar” and its similarly cathartic companion, “Sorcery and the Apeiron” combine malevolent melodies and scalding riffs with a truly demonic, glossolalian vocal delivery and some flabbergastingly ferocious drums, in truly superior style, all wrapped up in a shroud of mystic, ethereal atmosphere and looming dread.
What’s more, this pair of multifaceted metallic marvels, rich in ritualistic vibes and unsettling undertones, are only two of the many highlights contained within the demonic depths of Faustian Ethos.
Take the blackened bombast of “Aeonic Alchemy” or the gloomy grandeur of “Faustian Ethos” – both of which feature not only a hefty helping of dark, hypnotic hooks, but also a plethora of crystalline leads which gleam and glisten with their own inner light.
In fact this focus on shining lead guitar parts is one of the album’s most notable features (alongside the always evocative and esoteric vocal performance of the band’s frontman, of course).
The entire second half of “The Alchemist of the Radiant Sepulchre”, for example, is effectively a showcase for a shining array of soaring melodic guitar work, while devilish closer “Vita Nuova” is characterised by a stream of winding solos and wicked tremolo leads which continually loop and coil in upon themselves with smooth, serpentine grace.
As one of the most “traditional” Black Metal albums featured in this column (the other is to be found directly below) it shouldn’t be surprising that this album stays true to the very foundational ethos of the style. But what might be surprising to some people is just how fresh and vibrant it sounds in the process.
So if you’re a fan of acts like Enthroned, Watain, and their ilk, but are looking for something a little bit deeper and more philosophical, then this might just be the album for you.
ASCENSION – UNDER ETHER
I feel particularly bad about not covering this one sooner, as it really is one fine-fettered beast of an album, by one of Black Metal’s most reliably riveting acts.
Continuing to build upon the fearsome foundations established on their debut, Consolamentum, as well as expanding upon the more elaborate arrangements which characterised their sophomore full-length, The Dead of the World, Under Ether is an incredibly dense and uncompromising affair, packed with choppy, serrated riffs and rippling, liquid-metal drum work, as well as an unexpectedly meaty bass presence (just take a listen to the anthemic strains of “Ecclesia”, one of the album’s many stand-out tracks, for evidence of this).
This time around Ascension have some new elements in the mix, including a more progressive sense of melody and an air of Deathspell-esque discordance, the latter of which only serves to enhance their overall aesthetic, without overwhelming it, and gives these songs a much more dangerous and unpredictable edge than before.
The bone-rattling drums and menacing, multi-layered guitar work (always one of the band’s specialties) of “Ever Staring Eyes”, for example, also incorporates an undercurrent of shimmering obsidian melody to offset its more aggressive and angst-ridden overtones, while the striking “Dreaming in Death” ups the ante with an even harsher, heavier, but somehow hookier, delivery
Coming hot on the heels of the aforementioned “Ecclesia”, the doomy dissonance and morbid melodies of “Pulsating Nought” help make the middle section of the album into its strongest, with the imposing “Thalassophobia” – whose writhing riffs ad heaving rhythms are laced with veins of eerie pseudo-melody – making for a truly striking centrepiece right at the heart of the record.
The climactic pairing of “Stars to Dust” and “Vela Dare” serves to close things out on a suitably strong and scathing note, with the more mid-paced strains of the former conjuring a more open, but just as ominous, sense of atmosphere as its more contorted predecessors, while the suffocating density and spellbinding intensity of the latter provides a veritable masterclass into how to make Black Metal which is as artistically ambitious as it is utterly antagonistic.
Truth be told, while I’m sure other bands will receive more hype and grab more of the headlines this year, Under Ether deserves to be held in just as high regard as many of the year’s best and brightest examples of true blackened art.
UADA – CULT OF A DYING SUN
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, on Mars, with your fingers in your ears, you’ll probably be aware that Uada are currently one of the hottest things on the US Black Metal scene, and if you’ve ever seen them perform you’ll understand why.
But while their energetic, endearingly-scrappy debut saw the quartet doing their very best to try and embody the platonic ideal of what a Black Metal band could/should be, I’m willing to admit that, in hindsight, it didn’t fully capture the electrifying nature of their live show the way it should have.
Cult of a Dying Sun is different, however. Right from the start, when the aptly-named “The Purging Fire” blasts its way out of the gates with all guns blazing, you can tell this is a superior entity to its predecessor.
Leaner, meanier, heavier, and tighter – yet also willing to toy with some subtly proggy ambitions – cuts like the aforementioned opener and the electrifying “Snakes & Vultures” showcase a band truly starting to realise their potential, and their mix of seething tremolo melodies and imperious riffs (coupled with some effortlessly sharp and savage hooks and a blisteringly raw vocal performance) will doubtless find a welcome home with anyone who considers themselves a fan of modern idols like Mgła and Batushka, and/or legends like Necrophobic and Dissection.
It’s also obvious, as fierce and as thrilling as this album is, that Uada still haven’t peaked quite yet, and have more than enough room left to grow and develop their sound, as is already hinted at by the flexing of creative muscles displayed on tracks like the grimly grandiose “Blood Sand Ash” and titanic closer “Mirrors”, both of which benefit hugely from a fearless incorporation of majestic atmosphere and moody melody as well as some welcome experimentation in terms of their intricate arrangement/structure.
Make no mistake about it, this is one seriously impressive second statement by a band who have all the skills and the drive to be one of the genre’s biggest movers and shakers in the future.
WIEGEDOOD – DE DODEN HEBEN HET GOED III
As some of you may know, the inaugural Wiegedood album was one of my favourite releases of 2015, and still gets pretty regular rotation despite the multitude of other records constantly clamouring for my attention.
And while I was slightly less taken with its sequel, it was still one heck of an enjoyable ride, and one which left me extremely excited to hear part three.
And, wouldn’t you know it, that excitement has paid off handsomely with De Doden Heben Het Goed III, which comes extremely close to recapturing everything I loved about the band’s debut, without simply being a carbon-copy of it.
Still pulling no punches and taking no prisoners, opener “Prowl” is seven (and a bit) minutes of screeching banshee vocals, charred, churning riffs, and torrential blastbeats which somehow maintains a gripping sense of dynamic even though it rarely eases off on the pace for more than a few moments, and which, slowly but surely, reveals itself to be in possession of a significantly doomy, droning undercurrent.
“Doodskalm” is just a vicious and violent, if not more so, as its predecessor, delivering an all-out assault upon the senses for the first four and a half minutes, before transforming into a bleak and brittle piece of eerie minimalism which sets the stage for the song’s triumphant finale.
The title-track finds the Belgian three-piece doubling-down on the most hypnotic, narcotic side of their sound, drawing you in with a series of addictive, repeating riffs which drive their hooks deep into your bones so that, when they’re finally taken away, you’re left desperately craving another hit of that sweet, spiralling guitar work.. and when it comes? Oh, does it feel good.
Concluding with the blistering fury of “Parool”, De Doden Heben Het Goed III is a powerful testament to just why Wiegedood are one of the rising/shining stars of the Black Metal scene, and an album which richly deserves all the praise and plaudits it’s likely to receive.
WILT – RUIN
The unfortunate (and somewhat controversial) break-up of Agalloch a few years back left something of a void in the Atmospheric/Post segment of the Black Metal community, and one which has, in my humble opinion, yet to truly be filled.
That being said, the masterful blending of dark metallic melody and dreamlike serenity found on Ruin makes a very good case that this undeniably talented (though underwhelmingly named) Canadian quintet deserve serious consideration as potential heirs to Agalloch’s vacant mantle (pun very much intended).
Of course it’s not so much that Wilt sound exactly like Haughm, Dekker, and co., it’s more that the group’s sombre, evocative style examines and explores many of the same musical themes and ideas, although never in exactly the same way.
Take solemn, slow-burn opener “Into the Unknown”, for example. Bleak and brooding it may be, but there are also hints of sublime beauty amidst the gloom, with the band looking not just outwards but inwards for their inspiration.
“We Read the World Wrong” picks up the pace in a manner not too dissimilar to early Wolves In The Throne Room, and demonstrates that Wilt have a solid amount of brawn as well as brains, while “Strings of a Lingering Heart” is a real show-stopper both vocally and musically (not to mention atmospherically) and illuminates the band at possibly their most vital and dynamic.
The grandest and most ambitious track on the album is, of course, the ten-minute “A Summons Has Come”, whose extended length really gives the group a chance to stretch out and take their time conjuring an impressively intricate and many-layered piece of music, rich in both atmospheric ambience and raw emotion, after which the doom-tinged and darkly melodic “Veil of Gold” serves as a gripping, if more despondent, companion piece.
As good as it is however, Ruin isn’t without its flaws. For one thing, anticlimactic closer “Requiem” errs a little too close to tepid Post-Rock cliché for comfort. And, for another, it could be argued (quite justifiably) that Wilt have yet to truly step outside of the shadow of their predecessors, and so remain a little bit too much in thrall to their influences, rather than true masters of their own fate.
Still, they’ve crafted quite the little gem here, and I can see it striking a significant chord with a good number of our readers.
WOLVHAMMER – THE MONUMENTS OF ASH & BONE
Much like their countrymen in Uada, the Wolvhammer crew are also currently making some serious waves, and even a cursory listen to The Monuments of Ash & Bone should be enough to demonstrate exactly why that’s the case.
Dealing in a brutish, riff-heavy form of blackened belligerence, Wolvhammer’s sound owes a significant debt to Rebel Extravaganza-era Satyricon, and also demonstrates an impressive gift for crafting the sort of monstrous grooves which acts like Ruins/Horned Almighty/Goatwhore have long-since made their own stock-in-trade, yet never feels like a simple knock-off or facsimile of these other bands.
“Eternal Rotting Misery” is an ugly, uncompromising, and virulently catchy piece of work, and a perfect choice for an album opener, as it instantly introduces you to the core components of the band’s sound – bestial vocals, abrasive, angle-grinding guitars, and sadistic, swaggering grooves, all backed up by a bevy of scattergun snare hits and splashy, blood-spattered cymbals courtesy of new drummer Garry Naples.
Smartly, the group immediately expand upon this sound with the bi-polar brutality of “Call Me Death”, which infuses its blend of black ‘n’ bruised rhythms and horrendously heavy riffage with a surprising amount of melancholy melody (and even some solemn and sorrowful clean vocals), after which “Law of the Rope” swings the pendulum further over towards the Death Metal side of things, and then slathers on a molasses-thick coating of Goatwhore-esque groove for good measure.
One thing these first three track should immediately make you realise is that, as nasty and immutably nihilistic as these guys are, they definitely appreciate the importance of a good hook, something which becomes even more apparent on the neck-wrecking “Bathed In Moonblood and Wolflight” and the hideously headbangable “The Failure King”.
Even “Dead Rat Rotting Raven”, probably the album’s harshest and heaviest cut, brings more than its fair share of hook-filled hatred to the table, particularly with regards to the utterly crushing, yet cruelly catchy, riffs bleeding from the fingers of Jeff Wilson and John Porada.
Closing out with the doomy, despair-fuelled diatribe of “Solace Eclipsed”, whose mix of gut-wrenching howls and gloomy, gothic vocals allow Adam Clemans to really show off his pipes, The Monuments of Ash & Bone may not be a world-changer or mold-breaker, but if you’re ever looking to bask in some unrepentant filth and fury you could do a whole lot worse than give this one a spin.