If you’ve been visiting us every weekday since January 8th, hungering for new installments of this list like famished wolves waiting to be fed, you undoubtedly noticed that the wolf-keeper had no flesh for you yesterday. Various events conspired to prevent me from finishing and posting the latest installment before my blog time ran out. In a small effort to make up for that, I’m beginning today’s posts with this new trio of entries instead of making it the last post of the day, which is what usually happens.
The first minute-and-a-half of this song was all it took to ensure its place on this list. I was convinced the first time I heard those opening 90 seconds. The rest of the song just reinforced the conviction, though it’s often very different from the solo guitar instrumental that comes first.
The song is “As I Walk Among Sepulchral Ruins” by the German band Witching Hour off their 2018 album …And Silent Grief Shadows the Passing Moon. I had the pleasure of premiering the song last November, and in that post I commented about the album as follows:
“I suspect that most of us who are fans of black/thrash come to it for the blood-rush and the ferocity, for the feeling of demonic cruelty and chaos — intertwined with neck-wrecking riffs. What we usually don’t expect, and what Witching Hour deliver through the new album, are other dimensions of sound, style, and emotional resonance that give their music a mystical, dreamlike, and even somber aspect in the midst of all the slaughtering.
This song is damned good proof of what I was attempting to describe. That opening sequence of beautiful guitar notes, both glistening and scratchy — vibrant yet edged with a sound of sorrowful longing — provide the prelude to a galloping riot of lycanthropic howls and vicious slashing chords. But while the music becomes orders of magnitude more cruel and chaotic than the way in which it began, those gorgeous opening notes don’t completely disappear.
The song is a mad slasher and thrasher, but variations on that opening melody resurface, giving the song a strong element of glorious brightness in the midst of all the blood-lusting hunger in the riffs, all the cavorting and catapulting drum work, and all the wild, savage barbarism of the vocals. And the song ends as it begins, like visions in a dream, which is just great.
IN THE WOODS…
Like the first song in today’s installment, this next one also had me completely hooked within the first minute-and-a-half. Or to be more precise, at the 1:02 mark when the chorus first appears following a gloomy, gothic intro, and James Fogarty sends his voice skyward. My spine still tingles when I hit that point — and every other time the chorus recurs.
This song is “Cloud Seeder“, and it was one of the many outstanding tracks on the latest album by In the Woods…, which my friend Andy called “a fascinating, enthralling piece of work” in his review. In this particular song, Andy detected “more than a few strands of creative DNA” that this incarnation of In the Woods… shares with their compatriots in Borknagar, writing that “the breathtaking bombast of ‘Cloud Seeder’, could quite easily – with only a few minor alterations – find itself a place on Urd or Winter Thrice“.
That is perhaps one reason why I like this song so much, but as Andy also observed, this shouldn’t be taken as a sign that Cease the Day is somehow a derivative or uninspired piece of work: “For all the clear similarities between the two bands betrayed by these two songs [“Cloud Seeker” and “Respect My Solitude”], Fogarty and Kobro still possess a clear voice and vision of their own, and neither band (or their fans) should take this comparison as anything but a positive one in both directions.”
And of course, the album as a whole explores other territories besides those revealed in these songs. The whole album really is magical, but man, this song is especially wonderful.
The last song for today is “Infâme Saurimonde” by the French black metal band Aorlhac from their most recent album, L’esprit des vents. The entire album is fantastic, and I had some difficulty deciding which song I would choose from it for this list. But this one finally won out.
“Infâme Saurimonde” is gloriously incendiary, gloriously rifftastic, gloriously rampant in its soaring excess, and gloriously clever in the way it interweaves different melodic textures. It is one of the most extravagantly passionate pieces of music I heard last year (thanks in significant part to the incredible vocals), with an electricity that’s highly communicable. At the same time, its fieriness and furor are intertwined with a moving atmosphere of melancholy — it’s full of life, and full of pain.
And as for the differing melodic accents, the extended guitar solo that arrives in the middle channels the strains of medieval music in a way that’s completely natural within the flow of the song, and the melody that follows it, performed on an instrument much, much older than electric guitar, deepens the song’s connection to centuries’ old folk music — and deepens the song’s strong allure, which becomes deeper still when the whole band pick up that melody and carry it forward in an incredibly vivid, whirling dance.