(In this post Andy Synn presents reviews of three of the best black metal albums released so far in 2018.)
You could perhaps consider this article something of a rebuttal to my “Three Faces of Death” piece which was published last week, wherein I stated that 2018 seems to have been a very Death Metal heavy year so far, and that the Black Metal scene has (arguably) been lagging a little bit behind so far.
After all, while this statement is still generally true, some of this year’s blackest highlights – Funeral Mist, Ordinul Negru, Slidhr, Gaerea, Aklash, Ascension– have been more than capable of going toe-to-toe with whatever their deathly brethren have brought to the table.
It’s really just a numbers game at this point, and while I don’t see this torrent of dominating Death Metal ebbing any time soon, I’m pleased to be able to redress the balance somewhat by featuring the following three albums of blackened brilliance.
MARE – EBONY TOWER
Despite this being the band’s full-length debut, the history (and legacy) of Mare extends back almost fifteen years, and their line-up features a veritable who’s-who of the Black Metal underground, including members of Behexen, Vemod, Dark Sonority, and One Tail, One Head.
As you might expect then, the release of this album has been highly anticipated by a certain circle of the Black Metal elite, and there’s a lot riding on these five tracks as a result.
Thankfully I’m glad to be able to declare that Ebony Tower is a major triumph, as well as a serious candidate for best Black Metal album of the year, which manages to remain true to the darkest and most devilish roots of the genre without sounding dated or outmoded.
The blend of grim, forbidding atmosphere and intense, irresistible momentum which can be found on tracks like “Flaming Black Zenith” and “Nightbound”, truly does epitomise the sheer power and potential of Black Metal in its purest, most unadulterated form, and yet there’s never any sense that Mare have limited themselves by refusing to stray from the left-hand path.
Instead this album showcases a striking breadth and depth of vision and ambition, shifting seamlessly from passages of visceral fury to moments of bleak and terrible beauty, and back again (note the flawless transition from the moody outro of “Blood Across the Firmament” into the devastating deluge of “These Fountains of Darkness” for a perfect example), in a way which both captivates and illuminates in equal measure.
Credit must also go to the varied, versatile, and often vertiginous vocals of frontman Azazil, whose cadaverous howls and crepuscular cleans work in hellish harmony with the writhing guitars and turbulent drums of his companions to create one truly spellbinding record, culminating in the utterly fantastic finale of “Labyrinth of Dying Stars”.
Fans of Blut Aus Nord, Dødsengel, Hetroertzen, and their ilk – as well as anyone looking for a dose of pure Black Metal magic, refreshingly free of gimmicks or drama – should check this one out asap.
NACHTLIEDER – LYNX
The third album by one-woman Black Metal prodigy Dagny Susanne is undoubtedly bigger, better, and more bombastic than any of its predecessors. But what Lynx is particularly big on is riffs… buzzing, biting, tooth-gnashing riffs which drive every song with a potent mix of electrifying passion and energy.
In this manner many of these songs – from the savage opening pair of “Claws and Bone” and “Lynx”, to the grim grandeur of “Nameless, Faceless” – recall the primal, guitar-focussed ferocity of classic Bathory and Immortal, delivering a wealth of visceral thrills (as well as some cleverly executed twists) that pay tribute to the genre’s progenitors without being completely in thrall to what has gone before.
The same could also be said of Lynx with regards to how it builds upon, yet isn’t limited by, the work established by its predecessor, 2015’s The Female of the Species.
In fact I’d argue that numbers like the mesmerising “Song of Nova” and the truly ravenous “Law of Decay” (to name but two of the record’s most killer cuts) are far heavier and more dynamic than anything which Dagny has put out before, and display not just an increase in sheer aggression and intensity, but also a newfound ability to translate her ideas and inspirations into superior musical moments.
The album’s cataclysmic climax comes in the form of the tormented triptych of “Dark Matter”, “Eyes Ablaze”, and the monstrous (yet menacingly melodic) “Moksha”, which together mix all the most vicious, venomous, and downright vehement elements of Nachtlieder’s sound into one cruelly compelling whole.
So if you’ve not checked out the manifold metallic delights of Nachtlieder before now, this is the perfect opportunity to get on board.
OUTRÉ – HOLLOW EARTH
To say that Outré set themselves a seriously high-bar with their debut album, Ghost Chants, would be a major understatement.
After all, we’re talking about a record which I declared to be the best Black Metal album of 2015, beating out stiff competition from similarly stunning releases like Mgła’s incredible Exercises in Futility and Misþyrming’s phenomenal Söngvar elds og óreiðu in the process, and if you know how highly regarded both those albums were (and are) then you should be able to work out just how good I consider this particular group of Polish miscreants to be.
So the big question, ultimately, is whether or not Hollow Earth will be able to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps, given the impressively-sized shoes it has to fill?
For the most part the answer is an emphatic “yes”, although I’d say that I’m not quite ready just yet to declare it the best Black Metal album of 2018… however, it’s definitely in contention for the crown.
Songs like “The Order of Abhorrence” and the truly terrifying “Combustion” (which together form the album’s merciless opening pair following the unsettling introduction of “Spheres Within”) meld bone-grinding riffs and cold, cavernous atmosphere with a sense of abstract, angular dissonance reminiscent of Deathspell Omega, all whipped up into a whirling dervish of controlled chaos and blistering blasphemy by the devastating drum-work and venomous vocals of members Maciej and Mateusz.
This flesh-ripping tornado of sound and fury is also interspersed with a flowering strain of malignant melody which frequently reminds me of latter-day Enthroned, making tracks such as the demonic “Distant Daylight” and its similarly catastrophic companion “Aberrations”, as insidiously infectious as they are unforgivingly extreme.
Now I’ll admit I may have jumped the gun a little bit with this review, as the band (and their label) haven’t made any of these tracks available to the general public as of yet. However, considering the purpose of this post was to highlight three of the best Black Metal albums of the year – and this is most definitely one of them – I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about how good Hollow Earth is.
It’s also worth pointing out that two of these tracks, “Let the Earth Be Silent” and “Hollow Earth”, are easily two of the best concoctions of metallic might and menace, blackened or otherwise, which I’ve heard all year, with the latter introducing an even greater sense of depth and darkness to the band’s sound and the former delivering one of the most singularly punishing sonic firestorms of 2018.
So keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for more info, and more music, from these guys, as we’ll definitely be reporting on it as soon as it becomes available!
(Hollow Earth will be released by Debemur Morti Productions on October 28th.)