I think I was overly ambitious about what I thought I could accomplish today. I did enjoy spending time with, and writing about, the music I collected in today’s first post, but that exercise wound up leaving me with too little time to write about all the black metal I’d chosen for today’s SHADES OF BLACK column. Originally conceived as either one giant post or a two-part collection, I’ve had to cut it back: The music of four bands is featured here, instead of eight.
Maybe I’ll find the time to write about the other four in time to do a second SOB post tomorrow before the turbulence of the work week and the resumed flood of more new music inundates me, but that’s tough to predict at this moment. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these four selections as much as I have (two of the bands old favorites, and two are recent discoveries).
Having spent time with Enter the Necropolis, released on February 8th by the Finnish black metal band Sarastus, I’m feeling foolish for failing to explore the previous releases of this duo (composer and multi-instrumentalist Vardøger and vocalist/lyricist Revenant) — which include a debut demo (I) from 2015 and a debut album (II-Toinen Tuleminen) released in 2016 — because this new album is a real thrill.
Riffs, riffs, and more riffs! This album is loaded with glorious melodic riffs, which repeatedly combine sensations of sweeping grandeur and penetrating melancholy. The music is also possessed of a potent, body-hammering rhythmic drive, as well as blazing emotional intensity. That intensity comes through not only in the vibrancy of the drum and bass performances and the lofty yet lugubrious resonance of the melodies but also in the soul-searing impact of Revenant‘s shrieking.
But one reason the album is so damned good is that although the music does have the kind of unifying elements I attempted to summarize above, the songs each display variations in mood and character. For example, there’s a surging, rocking, thrusting quality to “With Hate and Flaming Visions” (a highly infectious and invigorating rush that’s probably my favorite among the eight tracks), while “Witness the Earth Descend” is cloaked in a mantle of grim desolation despite the fury of its attack and the epic quality of the melodies, and “A Prayer To the Void” intertwines a kind of sparkling brightness and a feeling of panoramic, head-back, arms-wide exultation.
You can expect one solid track after another, each one capable of standing alone with its head high, but what you shouldn’t expect is any lessening of the music’s powerhouse emotional intensity — there’s no place to catch a deep breath. The first track spins you up into flaming skies and across dramatic landscapes, and never brings you back to earth as long as the music lasts.
The cover art for Enter the Necropolis (which I really like) was created by Jari Haapola, and edited by Vardøger. The album is available now on Bandcamp, but Sarastus have disclosed that CD and vinyl editions will be forthcoming.
(Thanks once again to Miloš for pointing me to this album.)
One very good Finnish band deserves another. Aihos are a quintet from Savonlinna, and their debut album Hävityksen Maa is scheduled for international release by Helter Skelter Productions on March 29th. What you’ll find below is a video for a track from the album called “Ancestors Blood“, as well as a Bandcamp stream that includes two other songs from the album (“Verikruunu” and “Ikuiset“).
This track got its hooks in me real fast from the first listen, and the music is so charismatic that I keep coming back to it. It shares some similarities with the music of Sarastus, combining melodies of sweeping grandeur with feelings of deep melancholy. But before you reach the mid-point, the music segues into a moody yet completely beguiling acoustic instrumental, which becomes the basis for elaboration when the full band join in (accented by dramatic clean vocals). And the song also becomes a bonfire of racing, ravaging intensity, without shedding the sensations of searing loss and terrible grief.
The melodies in the song are wonderful, albeit heart-wrenching, and the band do a great job running through changes of pace and intensity without losing their firm grip on the listener’s attention.
The other two previously released songs are equally dynamic, equally gripping, and both quite memorable. Everything about them, from the shattering effect of the vicious and tortured vocal extremity to the explosive power of the drumming to the mind-whirling and blood-boiling urgency of the riffs and leads, is dramatically impassioned. Verikruunu” reaches heights of bleak but blazing majesty; “Ikuiset” has the air of mythic warfare, undeniably savage and tragic, yet with a scale and scope that seems to transcend mere human endeavor. It’s all… breathtaking.
Helter Skelter will be releasing Hävityksen Maa on CD, vinyl LP, and cassette tape, as well as digitally. Pre-orders for all may be placed through the album’s Bandcamp page.
I first came across this Chicago quartet via their En To Pan EP (which I partially reviewed back in July 2014), thanks to a recommendation by Panopticon’s Austin Lunn. Subsequently, Vukari and Panopticon became label-mates: Vukari’s second album Divination was released by Bindrune Recordings in 2016, and I thought it was stunningly good.
It appears that the band are now working on a new album, and on January 3rd they released a demo track from it named “Entire Worlds Encased In Ice“, which I wrote about then. On February 15th they released a demo of a second track from the album, “Disparity (The Great Works)“.
Despite the icy nomenclature, the first demo track is a fiery and groove-some headbanger, accented by gleaming shards of alien melody and intermixed with passages that are riotously delirious. The screaming vocals are themselves the sounds of spontaneous combustion; the rhythm section is downright thunderous in their assaults (when they’re not moving your head like a piston); and the song works so well on so many levels that it’s capable of sending the blood through your veins in a roaring rush even as it creates eerie vistas in your imagination.
The new song, “Disparity (The Great Works)“, builds tension through chiming notes and feverish yet forlorn riffing over torrential drumming. An atmosphere of bleakness hangs heavy over the music, but the instrumental performances (including the bass, which you should really pay attention to at least on a second listen if not the first) are incredibly exuberant — except in the song’s second half, when things slow and transform into a mesmerizing (and heart-breaking) experience, accented by the mournful sound of grieving strings and gleaming guitars (and extravagant cries of pain).
As in the case of the first two bands in this collection, Vukari create music that seems larger than life in its scale and scope, and but it’s also very human-sized in the authenticity of its moods of anguish and bereavement.
Coincidentally, in the same previous edition of SHADES OF BLACK in which I commented about the first demo track from Vukari’s new album, I also wrote about a song from the forthcoming second album by Vielikan — and now Vielikan has also released a second track from that new album, through a lyric video.
For those who may be new to Vielikan, despite how often I’ve written about the project, it’s the solo endeavor of Tunisia-based musician Fedor Souissi Kovalevsky (also a member of the apocalyptic funeral doom band Omination, who also have a new album coming out this year, via Hypnotic Dirge). The new Vielikan album is Back to the Black Marsh, and that first advance song, “God(s), Love and Life“, inspired these impressions:
“Over its nine-minute duration the song ranges far and wide. It’s tumultuous and bursting with the sounds of agony, almost overpowering in the intensity of its bleak, mind-splintering grandeur (the vocals are themselves staggeringly impassioned). It’s also searing and strange, with waves of twisting, swirling, and soaring melody cascading over maniacally driven bass-and-drum rhythms. It hammers, and it sparkles with an unearthly effervescence. The track is rampantly explosive and extravagant, and executed with an impressive instrumental skill that’s a match for its inventive conception and passionate heart”.
“I Am the Black Ocean” is the newer song, and the subject of the video below. The music is tumultuous, creating floods of adrenaline through full-throttle, attention-seizing drum and bass work, the magnetic pulse of the riffing, and the unhinged extravagance of the vocals. The soaring chorus is particularly extravagant (and memorable) — but the song is a multi-faceted affair, and the segment that precedes the final expression of devastating intensity is both ominous and luminous — foreboding and calamitous, but with a sinuous, shining guitar lead that really stands out.
And this song, too, like others in today’s collection, also achieves an air of grandeur — though the visions it creates are disturbing, and verge on apocalyptic.
Back to the Black Marsh will be released on March 22nd. Check out the new video below, and you can listen to both songs through the Bandcamp player I’ve embedded right afterward.