(Andy Synn prepared the following reviews for six new albums from the realms of black metal.)
It’s already the first of April and, somehow, I am already about six months behind in my reviews for 2019.
To try and address this problem, this week I’m going to be grouping together a bunch of different bands/albums to try and simultaneously clear some of this backlog AND get the word out about a few new (or relatively new) releases I think you all need to hear.
So let’s begin with six (well, five and a half) examples of the black (Metal) arts, shall we?
AKROTHEISM – LAW OF SEVEN DEATHS
The word “atmospheric” can be a very loaded term when applied to Black Metal. For some people it implies a very specific (and often very divisive) sound. But please understand that when I use the term “atmospheric” to describe the music found on Law of Seven Deaths I’m not trying to relate it to the “Atmospheric Black Metal” style of bands like Urfaust or Agalloch, I’m simply referring to the unsettling, inchoate atmosphere conjured up by each and every track.
Closer in style to bands like Nightbringer, Ascension, and their countrymen in Acherontas, than either of the bands mentioned above, Akrotheism’s sound is an incredibly dense, incredibly dark amalgam of dissonant riffs, discordant pseudo-melodies, and gloom-shrouded atmosphere, all topped off with a surprisingly varied vocal performance which interweaves both howling fury and haunting mystery in equal measure.
It’s a style of Black Metal that’s purposefully, wilfully, opaque to new listeners, and which demands a certain amount of focus and dedication to truly get to grips with all it has to offer, but whose rewards are manifold when finally unlocked.
Unsurprisingly Law of Sevens Deaths is an album with real depth to it, and while its sheer immensity and oppressive nature makes it difficult (though not impossible) to connect with immediately, once it gets its hooks into you – which for me was during the mournful, Celtic Frost-inspired “Desmotropia” – you’re unlikely to be able to shake its hold upon you very easily.
The album reaches its pinnacle (or nadir?) with the gargantuan “Skeptomorphes (The Origin of I)”, which has a similar, aggressively atmospheric style to that of NCS-approved alchemists Schammasch, albeit arguably even more dissonant and off-kilter in its delivery, so if you’re still struggling to forge a connection (for whatever reason) I’d recommend at least giving this particular track some extra time to really sink in, as this really is the sort of record that needs careful cultivation and attention to fully appreciate everything it has to offer.
Full stream at DECIBEL here.
DIM AURA – THE TRIUMPHANT AGE OF DEATH
So has anyone/everyone seen Lords of Chaos yet? Personally I feel that Åkerlund never really establishes any sort of distinctive tone or style for the film, so the events as portrayed (regardless of their accuracy) constantly feel rather flat and affectless (apart from the more violent moments, which are lingered upon with an almost lurid delight).
But the one thing I thought it did get right was reminding people that, underneath all the posturing and mythologizing, the origins of Black Metal can mostly be attributed to a bunch of damaged and/or disaffected teenagers lashing out at the perceived (or actual) evils of “society”… with a particular disdain for organised religion.
And while, in one sense, this isn’t anything new, its very universality – angry, angsty youths trying to express themselves through music – is what I think helps explain the subsequent global spread of Black Metal as a genre.
Of course I can’t predict how Euronymous might have felt about a band like Dim Aura continuing the legacy of Mayhem (although, since the band hail from Tel Aviv, we can probably guess how Varg feels), but I’d like to think he’d appreciate how raw, and how real, the quartet have kept things on their second album, The Triumphant Age of Death.
Granted, Dim Aura don’t offer anything particularly new or ground-breaking, but there’s an undeniable (and slightly ironic) joie de vivre underpinning tracks like galloping opener “Clockwork Negativism”, the grimly groovy “Black Heretic Hate”, and the cruelly catchy “Death, Total Death”, all of which pay clear tribute to the genre’s punk-fuelled, piss and vinegar, beginnings.
Not only that, but darker, doomier cuts like “Blood Boiling Misanthropy” and caustic closer “Mors Vincit Omnia” showcase a touch of Funeral Mist-style esotericism in their arrangements, demonstrating that Dim Aura are more than just a purely retro affair, they’re a band with a clear passion, and a clear vision, for Black Metal in its most fundamental form.
KHNVM – FORETOLD MONUMENTS OF FLESH
Unlike the rest of the albums featured in this article, KHNVM’s debut record errs much more towards the Death Metal side of things, although there’s still a devilishly dark undercurrent to the record which suggests that there’s an underlying (if unacknowledged) Black Metal influence in play too.
If you were (or are) a fan of some of last year’s big-hitters like Outer Heaven, Tomb Mold, and Bæst, then the writhing riffs, belligerent blasting, and churning chuggery of tracks like “Foretold Monuments of Flesh”, “Heathen Beast”, and “Profaning the Ancient Rites” should be right up your proverbial street, as there’s not a moment on any of them where KHNVM don’t sound as utterly vile and vicious as any of their peers.
There’s also some serious similarities to Blackened Death-dealers like Azarath and Otargos to be found on killer cuts like “Invocato Deo Plaga”, the morbidly mechanical “Sic Mundus Creatus Est”, and menacingly melodic closer “Kabbalah of Darkness”, with the latter in particular leaning hard into the bleaker, blacker, side of the band’s repertoire.
As a matter of fact, for all that Foretold Monuments of Flesh has been tagged as part of the ongoing OSDM resurgence, ultimately it’s a far sharper, far more exacting, and far more blackened affair than this designation might imply, and features a much more careful and coherent balancing of metallic brutality and malevolent melody than the majority of today’s “old school” revivalists.
So if you’re a fan of any of the bands mentioned above, or just want to hear what I think is (so far at least) one of the most underrated Death Metal albums of 2019, then give this one a listen asap.
NORDJEVEL – NECROGENESIS
While Black Metal continues to mutate and evolve into ever more weird and warped forms, it’s still good to see that some bands, like Norwegian quartet Nordjevel, are still committed to persevering down the left-hand path laid out by the genre’s pioneers and progenitors by embracing the pure, primal power of “the riff” in all its godless glory, in a manner not dissimilar to second-wave scions like Dark Funeral, Gorgoroth, and (stretching the definition more than a little) 1349.
Despite featuring 50% new members when compared to their self-titled debut, Necrogenesis still sounds very much like the same band, with both Dominator (drums) and Destructhor (guitars) slotting in seamlessly alongside vocalist Doedsadmiral and bassist Dezepticunt, while also adding some extra punch and power to the proceedings.
And while the first half of the album falls ever so slightly afoul of its tendency to stick rigidly to the confines of Black Metal orthodoxy – not that this precludes these early songs from being good, as the crushing “Black Lights From The Void” so clearly demonstrates – the back half of Necrogenesis is where the real magic happens.
Witness, if you will, the suitably feverish intensity of “The Fevered Lands”, or the priapic, rein-raus grooves of “Nazarene Necrophilia”, both of which provide some extremely convincing support for the above statement. Or perhaps the scything, seething, skin-shredding riffs of “Apokalupsis Eschaton” are more to your liking?
Heck, even the bonus track, “Venom of Serpents”, shines with a luminous, luciferian brightness (although the humongous “Panzerengel” remains a far superior, and even more devastating closer) which outshines the album’s first few (not inconsiderable) cuts.
I don’t meant to downplay the album’s first half entirely by any means, as it’s still a rip-roaring rollercoaster of blackened thrills and spills, it’s simply that the second half of the record is just that little bit stronger and sharper, and that everything from “Amen Whores” onwards is basically worth the price of entry on its own!
SCHATTENFALL – MELANCHOLIE DES SEINS
For various reasons (primarily my own inadequacy) I failed to give Schattenfall’s stellar 2017 debut, Schatten In Schwarz, any proper coverage at the time.
That’s not a mistake I intend to make a second time around, however, even if the format of the write-up has to be slightly abridged, as Melancholie des Seins has rapidly become one of my favourite Black Metal albums of the year thus far.
Despite being very much on the more “atmospheric” end of the scale – reminiscent, in fact, of latter-day Agalloch – the album’s blackened bona fides are never in any doubt, as for every moody, hypnotic melody or sombre, acoustic interlude there’s a bevy of snarling, emotionally resonant vocals and twisting, twining tremolo runs to provide the necessary balance and belligerence which this particular sub-genre thrives on.
Equal parts haunting beauty and brooding melancholy, Melancholie des Seins isn’t the sort of album that tries to batter you into submission – it’s easily the most melodic and proggy album on this list – but rather wears you down, like water wears down even the toughest stone, over the course of fifty-five solemn, spellbinding minutes.
And while all the commonplace clichés most definitely still apply – it is, by turns, epic, majestic, and takes you “on a journey” – the gloriously melodic misery on offer on tracks like “Erst gar nicht geboren”, “Ein Riss durch alle Leben”, and my personal favourite, “Misanthrop”, is absolutely second to none.
TOTALED – LAMENT
Hype is a funny old thing. There’s “big hype”, where every album is a 9/10 and is guaranteed to change the game forever!!!, and there’s “little hype”, where a band (or their label/PR) carefully cultivates a slow-burning undercurrent of steadily building anticipation, confident that, in the end, the music will be more than able to speak for itself.
Thankfully Lament is much closer to the latter than the former, and even a cursory listen will quickly reveal just why it’s already in contention for a lot of people’s year-end lists.
Although largely categorised as “Blackened Hardcore” by both the metal media and their own press releases, to my ears the truth is that these eight tracks lean much more towards straight-up, unflinching Black Metal fury than that description might imply.
Of course, the genre’s punky roots make the amalgamation of these two styles a pretty natural fit (as bleak, stompy closer “Bereft” demonstrates with aplomb), when all is said and done, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t make it clear how much more tracks like “As Below” and “Transience” owe to the corpse-painted kvlts than they do the beatdown cliques.
Lament is in no way a one-note album, however, as amidst all the strafing blastbeats and barbed-wire tremolo runs the band carefully incorporate bits and pieces of several other styles and sub-genres – from punchy d-beat rhythms to doomy chord progressions to some unexpectedly proggy lead guitar heroics – in just the right amounts to expand the remit of their sound without diluting its core intensity.
And, hoo boy, is it one hell of an intense ride, from start to finish, with only the teasing opening bars of the otherwise pulverising “Desolate” and the aptly-named instrumental interlude of “Ominous” offering any semblance of calmness or restraint once things finally kick off.
Of course the sheer, unrelenting savagery of the record could, in lesser hands, be just as much of an Achilles heel as it is an advantage, which is where the band’s perfectly proportionate songwriting comes into play, allowing them to switch up their attack, without losing any of their raw intensity, just as the listener starts to get used to all the auditory violence being inflicted upon them.
It’s not so much quiet-loud, light-and-shade, as it is loud-louder, dark-darker, heavy-heavier… meaning that just when you think Totaled have hit you as hard as they possibly can, in comes another stunning blow that leaves you reeling, bleeding, and hungry for another beating.