This is another one of those days when I’m leaning into black metal for the latest additions to this list, with a pair of songs that present different shades of black, very different formulations of music that incorporates black metal traditions, but all of them big head-movers in the moment and quite memorable in the aftermath. And in between them I’ve placed some Motörcharged scandicrust that’s equally head-moving and highly addictive.
I should mention that we’re drawing very close to the end of this series. Last year’s series ended with Part 20, and here we’re already up to Part 30. So as to give myself time this coming weekend to agonize over the final picks, I’m not going to stop this week — but at some point next week (probably early in the week), we’ll bring this 2018 list to an end. To check out everything that has preceded today’s installment, you’ll find them behind this link.
I can’t think of a better word than “magnificent” for “Far Above the Boiling Sea of Life“. That’s the word that leaped to mind when I first heard it in advance of premiering the track in February of last year, and it’s the word that I’m left with every time I hear it — which has been often.
“Far Above the Boiling Sea of Life” is the closing track on a phenomenal album named Stardust, the second full-length by the Belgian black metal band Soul Dissolution. At the beginning of the song and again at its finale, the music races in a gallop, propelled by rapidly hammering drum work and a surging riff with a melodic hook that’s razor-sharp. An air of melancholy pervades not only these segments, but the entire song — although the shades of sorrow change — and the vocalists’ piercing acidic shrieks and livid cries can themselves be taken as expressions of agonizing pain and torment.
In between the song’s surging start and racing climax, the drum rhythm changes, the melody becomes perhaps even more wistful and sorrowing, and about halfway through, the band launch a hammering bass-and-guitar riff that’s a guaranteed head-mover (the bass tone here, by the way, is huge). The trilling lead-guitar lines in the song add still more textures, at times ethereal, and they reach crescendos that seem bright, almost hopeful, but still edged with the ache of longing.
FREDAG DEN 13:E
This next song is a rare instance in which I’ve selected something from an album that none of us at NCS ever wrote about. I intended to, but for whatever reason never managed to do. The band is Fredag den 13:e (translated as “Friday 13:th”), a quintet from Gothenburg, Sweden, who channel the raw power of Swedish punk acts like Anti Cimex and Mob47 with the raucous rock ‘n roll feel of such bands as Poison Idea and Motörhead. They’ve released four albums since 2010, the most recent of which was last year’s Dystopisk Utsikt (which means “Dystopian View”).
Lots of the songs on the album catch in the head really fast. The runner-up in my own head to the one I picked is the opener “Plägad Av Ljuset”, which includes elements of Swedish melodic death metal, but I think it’s edged out by “Fängslad Mentalt“. Translated as “Mentally Imprisoned”, it’s about the constant fears of living as a refugee (the band’s lyrics are all political commentary on a world increasingly dominated by fascistic authoritarianism and oppression).
The opening craggy riff and hammering drum beat have a lot to do with why I got so quickly stuck on “Fängslad Mentalt” and why it stayed stuck — not not the only reason. The slashing riffs, flashing leads, and persistently riotous drumming have a lot to do with it, along with the sheer scorching fury of the vocals and the extravagant percussive outburst that happens just past the mid-point. And on top of all that, there’s a soaring, anthemic quality to the melody that makes the heart swell.
To close today’s installment of the list I’ve picked yet another song that first surfaced more than a year ago. It’s the title track to Netherstorm, the debut album of the Finnish band Vargrav. The album is a form of symphonic black metal, one with old roots. As the PR description of the album eloquently and accurately described, it’s “a swarming, densely layered maelstrom of medieval majesty and moonlit madness”, one that “sweeps grandly across a cobwebbed landscape, distant ruins becoming the very listener’s landscape”.
This album is worthy of your undivided attention if you haven’t paid attention yet. The uniformly well-written songs succeed at multiple levels — they’re atmospheric in a way that brings mythic visions to the mind’s eye; they have a panoramic sweep and a chilling, sometimes haunted grandeur; and they also produce a physical effect, invariably creating pulse-pounding surges of excitement.
The song “Netherstorm“, in particular, mesmerizes me. That little darting sound of strings at the beginning is itself intriguing, and when the music unfolds over it, in a grand and mysterious panorama of sound, the hook is firmly set. What will happen next? And what happens next is the clatter of racing drums and storming guitars — intermingled with haunting keyboard interludes and sweeping orchestral glory.
The vocals spray acid with howling vehemence, and the boiling seas of melody that rise up with increasing intensity elevate a listener’s pulse rate. There are also plenty of opportunities to bob your head and shake your leg to the rocking rhythms while the spectral grandeur of the music washes over you in vast waves.