SHADES OF BLACK (PART 2): DRATNA, GOD’S BASTARD, ZAKAZ, SERPENTINE APOSTLE, FUROR BREVIS
To have any hope of finishing Part 2 of today’s column I’ve had to carve off some of the releases I had intended to write about too. Painful decisions to be sure, but between Part 1 and what follows in this Part 2, there’s probably too much music for any normal person to focus on already, and too many threats to your financial solvency if you like all of it well enough to go on a spending spree.
Part 1 was devoted to advance tracks from forthcoming releases (and one new single), but this installment includes complete streams of five new EPs, which ought to be enough to thoroughly burn this Easter to the ground. (Four of them are “name your own price” at Bandcamp.)
In the space of little more than a year, the Northern Ireland one-man black metal band Dratna (which is its creator’s name rendered in a medieval Irish language) has released three EPs of increasing quality and coalescing focus. The first two were Clíodhna and Altar (reviewed here), and the latest is An Cath (The Battle), which was on released April 20th.
The best of these four new songs is the opener, “Shadow of the Mountain“, whose plaintive piano chords slowly ring out over a haze of caustic riffing, hammering percussion, and roaring vocals. The shimmering lead that surfaces over a more stately rhythm (and resurfaces later) holds its own fiery allure, but it’s that keyboard melody, which eventually becomes more animated and elaborate, that sticks in the memory, perhaps because it’s atypical of black metal.
The following three tracks aren’t mundane either. Each holds its own delights — the combination of electronic pulses, shining ethereal tones, rocking rhythms, and a scintillating solo in the raw and riff-tastic title track; the bleak, spectral atmosphere that shrouds the blistering acidity of “He Is Born of Fire”; and the anthemic heavy metal grandiosity that makes “Seasons of the Eel” such a blood-pumping extravagance (though it too includes hypnotizing keyboard accents).
It may go too far to say that Dratna‘s stylistic adventures have completely coalesced, but we’re at the point when the music’s idiosyncrasies have begun to sound like a style all its own. I think it will be very interesting to find out what comes next (a debut album is in the works).
Brooklyn-based God’s Bastard is a collaboration between Drew Hays (ex-Floods) and Lev Weinstein (Krallice, Geryon, Anicon, etc.). Their three-track debut EP, Last Standing Village, which was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Colin Marston, is absolutely wild. It’s an enormous adrenaline trigger, and must have required a year’s supply of adrenaline to make the EP, too.
“Chaos Apologist” is a blazing fireball of rampant instrumental exuberance and explosive vocal intensity. The instrumental pyrotechnics are exciting as hell, and it’s all tied together with fanfare-like blasts of melody that are downright glorious — until things get (briefly) very grim at the end. Wisely, the band follow that riotous opener with something less immediately ebullient and more depressive, though “God Raise the Sea” is ultimately no less intense, and no less interesting. It frequently becomes hallucinatory (even nightmarishly freakish in its dissonance), though it includes its own fair share of instrumental fireworks, including some truly mind-boggling drum crescendos by Weinstein.
By now you will have realized that you’re in the presence of a tour-de-force. The surprise would be if the closing title track weren’t surprising — and of course it is. “Last Standing Village” is one more brilliant musical kaleidoscope whose flashing and somber colors change constantly, but whose pieces fall into place often enough that it leaves the mind spinning instead of in wreckage.
Here’s a one-word summary: Stunning.
I was impressed by the first EP by this one-man Icelandic band, Sjálfsvíg, for reasons I explained in a review two years ago. Last year saw the release of a second Zakaz album, Kvalir, which we failed to review but which you should definitely check out, and now there’s a new demo named Unbroken, which is a preview of a new album.
Unbroken (released on April 14th) includes three of the eight tracks on the next full-length. All three of the tracks share certain features — extravagant drumwork; shattering vocal intensity; dolorous moods — and sharp changes in style and intensity. For example, after the way that “Shadows That You Cast” begins, you won’t see the slow, fluid, soulful guitar solo coming (except I just told you). That song also soars to beautiful, mystical heights and becomes fragile and introspective.
All of the songs powerfully channel strong emotions. And while the music is often depressive in its cast, “Unbroken” expresses yearning in beautiful terms, and reveals glimpses of unearthly splendor in the midst of its pain and grief (and the clean vocals in that song also tug at the heart-strings, even though the acid vocals continue to claw at your throat).
While all of the songs take us through changes, “Hof úr Holdi” has eight minutes to work with, and so does that even more than the two preceding tracks, pulling us into moods of quiet, inner desolation and propelling us to the precipice of wondrous panoramic vistas (where we still feel cold and alone). The added length also enables Zakaz to create a spell of lingering power; the song really is spellbinding.
Serpentine Apostle is a black metal project from Estonia whose debut EP, Three Envenomed Fangs, will be released digitally and on cassette on April 23rd by Inferna Profunus Records. Although we’re still a couple of days away from the release, the entire EP is now streaming on Bandcamp.
The EP is a single track of more than 17 minutes in length. It doesn’t take long for the music to envelop the listener in a storm of ravaging sound, which manages to create an aura of unearthly eminence and implacable hostility at the same time as it’s setting all your nerve endings on fire. As the song unfolds, the energy ebbs and flows continually, becoming cold and cruel as well as incendiary, but that atmosphere of having crossed over into an occult alien dimension never goes away.
The music changes, like movements in an infernal symphony (there are rocking movements as well as hallucinatory ones), but it always seems to return to ripping and ravishing (with drumming that’s off-the-hook), and the vocals are never less than unhinged. Past the halfway point, there’s a discordant sound that’s something like a mangled horn (which returns again later), trumpeting the advent of some terrible calamity. And in retrospect the entire song has the inherent drama and terrifying fearsomeness of a world-ending event, imagined as a theatrical pageant capable of leaving the audience gasping.
Here’s another one-word summary: Astonishing.
This final EP is the most recent discovery among all the music I’ve collected in this two-part column, but it made such a blinding impact that I felt the need to include it here, even though that meant omitting something else I had originally planned to include. The EP is Desperatio by the French extremists Furor Brevis.
Consistent with the band’s name, these four tracks are compact — and uproarious. Like the music on some of the other EPs in this collection, the songs here are also unpredictable and instrumentally adventurous, changing without warning. Dissonance is dominant, and the band are quite capable of unleashing barbaric black/death attacks, but equally capable of collapsing into bruising, clammy crawls. Just don’t get too comfortable with anything that happens, because it’s going to change seconds later.
It takes a high level of instrumental skill to engage in the kind of veering and vaulting represented by these crazed, labyrinthine compositions, and a kind of no-holds-barred inventiveness in planning what happens. And while there’s an “avant-garde”, experimental quality to the music, the vocals are pure bestial bloodlust.
I don’t know who’s behind this project, but I’d be shocked if these people were newcomers. It’s just too extraordinary and self-confident in its lunacy to be anyone’s first efforts.
(Huge thanks to Rennie of starkweather for recommending this to me.)
Furor Brevis is wild.