Like yesterday’s round-up, this SHADES OF BLACK column originally took shape in my head a week ago, but I wasn’t able to post it then. Over the last week (as usual) a lot of new black metal appeared, but my paying job took me out of town and didn’t allow me enough free time to listen to much of it. The week ahead will be similar (a different destination but not much free time).
In this column I’ve combined the music I would have written about last Sunday with just a few new songs I had time to check out this past week. In case you’re wondering, I am aware that Deathspell Omega has disclosed the existence of a new album and has launched the stream of a track from it, and that a lyric video from Abbath‘s new album also surfaced (here) but those are two of many new things I’ve set aside to listen to later so that it doesn’t distract me from getting this column finished!
LVTHN / HÄXENZIJRKELL
I’ve included the music of the Belgian black metal band LVTHN in numerous previous installments of this column, but not since the release of their 2016 debut album Eradication of Nescience, and therefore failed to mention their 2017 EP, The Spider Goddess. That’s well worth checking out if you haven’t already, but today’s focus concerns something even more recent, a new split by LVTHN and the German band Häxenzijrkell (whose music I’ve also written about before). It was released on April 30th, digitally and on 10″ vinyl by Amor Fati (with cover art by Karmazid).
The name of the split is The Spirit of the Flesh In the Flesh of the Spirit. It consists of an original song by LVTHN (the title track), LVTHN‘s cover of “Pure Fucking Armageddon” by Mayhem, and a song by Häxenzijrkell named “Blutsabbat“.
In the original track, LVTHN‘s music sears like a flame and bludgeons like an avalanche. The riffing is high and wild, as are the vocals, but there’s a deep, heaving and throbbing undercurrent in the music, as well as a pistoning drum rhythm, and in combination the sound is tremendously powerful. In addition to channeling chaos in such explosive fashion, the track also segues into a thrusting and rocking movement that’s just as compelling (and just as mountainous in its bass drive).
Not surprisingly, the band turn in a full-throttle, high-octane tribute to Mayhem in that cover song that will ruin your neck and scorch your brain, but you’ll discover that they also put their own stamp on the song rather than trying to clone the original, and the result is predictably explosive, in part because of the greater clarity and brute power of the sound, but for other reasons as well.
Häxenzijrkell‘s track “Blutsabbat” creates an immediate contrast to the LVTHN tirades with a woozy, sinister intro section that lasts almost two minutes, and the song retains that hallucinatory, malignant quality even when the rest of the song begins. The pacing barely accelerates beyond a methodical gait (rocking when it does), and the haze of riffing is like aural poison. There’s a deep bass thrum in this track, as well as insidious buzzing leads, droning vocal wails and shrieks, and livid proclamations in German. The combined result is nightmarish, and creepy enough to chill the blood in your veins.
“In the right hands, and shaped with the right spirit, seemingly simple musical structures can become intensely evocative and even spellbinding. In fact, the ability of a piece of music to carry the listener away in a waking trance, where the mind conceives its own visions under the influence of the sound, may become even stronger with simplicity — if the songwriting and the execution are as good as they are on the self-titled album by the Finnish atmospheric black metal band Kval.”
That’s how I began to introduce a song we premiered from Kval almost two years ago. The quality of the album stuck in my memory, and so I was eager to listen to the next song in today’s collection, which is the title track from a new Kval album named Laho (which means “rotten” in English).
Kval‘s songs tend to be long ones, geared toward creating spells, and that is true of “Laho“, which begins with flute, the picking of what sounds like an old, simple, stringed instrument, and shimmering notes that reminded me of a mellotron. In combination they create a mysterious and moody but alluring atmosphere. When the piano comes in, carrying that melody forward and giving it a further dimension, the music becomes even more spellbinding.
Eventually Kval layers in the more conventional metal instruments, along with harsh vocal intensity, but the spell is unbroken. The music softens again, when something like the twang of a jaw-harp can be heard, as well as somber, dreamlike clean vocals. The dreamlike quality of the song persists even when a rocking backbeat moves it in a different direction and the combination of other sounds lends the music greater vibrancy.
There are so many interesting tonalities in the song, and so many changes in mood as the melodies and rhythms evolve and re-form, that it’s easy to fall prey to the spell that Kval is casting.
Laho features cover art by Moonrot Art, and Hypnotic Dirge Records will release it on May 23rd.
Empyrean Fire is the name of the debut album by this post-black-metal band, who are based in Prague but have a line-up that includes one participant originally from Ukraine and a vocalist who lives in Russia, as well as three members from the Czech Republic. The album will be released by Noizr Productions on June 7th.
This is one of many instances where I was induced to listen to music because I was so taken by the wonderful cover art (in this case by Anna Levytska). And the music here is the album’s opening track, “Pink Powder“, which was first presented through a video made by the band (which probably should be avoided by epileptics)
At first, the song features waves of dense guitar sound and near-relentless blasting drums, together with ruinous shrieking, rapidly bounding bass notes, and siren-like leads that seem both ghostly and demented. It’s a tumultuous experience, but melodically bleak and bereft. It comes as a surprise when the tumult abruptly ceases, replaced by the reverberation of slow, dreamy guitar notes and caustic whispers. The angst and wretchedness of the music re-surface when the storming resumes, but the song becomes mesmerizing by the end, even in the depths of its melancholy.
Near the end of 2018 I did something I do only a couple of times a year — impulsively write a review of an album I had just heard. I did that because I happened to have some unexpected free time and because the album floored me. It was Solitaire Dépravé by a French one-man blackened-death machine named Sheol Blanc. I spilled a torrent of enthusiastic words about the record, and then did something similar in March of this year when I encountered a new Sheol Blanc single named “Shallow Path“.
Now there’s another new single out in the world, this one named “Tenebris Cogitationes“. It’s actually a two-track release, with the second track being an instrumental version of the same song. Produced in a way that gives the music depth and power, the song has a decidedly gloomy atmosphere, but a contagious, mid-paced pulse. The flickering leads channel pain and the rapid fragmentation of sanity, building tension until the music titanically pounds and then erupts in a blast of frenzied riffing and hammering drums, only to return again to that mood of boiling desolation. The song is really good, but it won’t make you feel good.
Now I’m turning to a few of the new tracks I managed to check out over the past week in the very little free time allowed by my fucking day job, beginning with this new one by Yellow Eyes, which premiered at DECIBEL in late April. Entitled “No Dust“, it comes from this New York band’s new album, Rare Field Ceiling, which will be released by Gilead Media on June 28th.
The band told DECIBEL: “Will [Skarstad, guitar] came back from another trip to Siberia a few weeks before we went into the studio, and he brought home a new series of field recordings that became vital to the shape of the album. You’ll hear a fragment of that in this track, as well as a plucked zither-type instrument made by our bassist, Alex [DeMaria].”
In my head, this track became a good follow-on to that Sheol Blanc track. It begins in a depressive and agonized mood, and even when a potent rhythm gets the listener’s head going nice and hard, the music remains afflicted and despairing in its feeling, reaching heights of discordant distress and sinking into depths of gibbering hopelessness. To be clear, the song is capable of sinking deep hooks in your head, and the drum and bass work is damned potent, but it’s a richly textured symphony of pain and perilous hallucination that these people have created, as disturbing as it is immersive.
It’s going to be a banner year for Gilead Media. In addition to releasing that new album by Yellow Eyes and one by Falls of Rauros (from which another new song premiered late last week [here] but which I haven’t checked out yet), Gilead will also be releasing a new one by Minnesota’s False — which features another fantastic piece of cover art by Mariusz Lewandowski. The name of the album is Portent.
Revolver hosted the premiere of a track from the album last week — “A Victual To Our Dead Selves” — and you’ll have to go there to listen to it because it isn’t available for embed yet on putrid sites such as ours. It’s a long song, as many False compositions are, full of fierce energy and an atmosphere of intense, tragic drama. Whenever I hear Rachel‘s voice, I think of a panther screaming in the night, though here she also emits terrible, near-growled howls and roars. The visceral, spine-tingling effect of her voice is matched by the intensity of the surrounding music, which combines soaring symphonic grandeur, jaw-dropping, hyper-speed drumwork, and riffing that channels blistering torment and suffering.
For a song of such length, one might expect some kind of reprieve from the mind-scorching intensity, but there is none. We’re caught in an emotional firestorm, and False have no intention of letting us escape it. Take a deep breath, because “A Victual To Our Dead Selves” is breathtaking.
P.S. Another new False song, “Neither Path nor Gate”, will appear on DECIBEL‘s flexi series (announced here) but I haven’t found a stream of it yet.
To conclude today’s column, I’m stepping back in time rather than looking ahead. It just happened that I heard about Sciolism‘s 2018 debut EP, Released To Chaos, yesterday, and impulsively decided to check it out rather than catching up on more of the new music that appeared last week, and thought it merited a recommendation here.
This New Zealand trio, whose members have also spent time in MetalTower, Exordium Mors, Nullifier, and Bloodfvck, recorded five tracks for this first EP, which was released a year ago by Visionaire Records. The music has more in common with technical death metal than black metal, but there’s enough “blackening” in the riffs that I’m not too concerned about including it here — especially because the music is so stunningly electrifying that I didn’t want to wait to foist it upon you.
The maniacal fury and bone-fragmenting force of the drumming makes an immediate impact, as does the band’s talent for switching gears on a dime. The riffing is as dynamic as the drum rhythms and patterns, and generates a persistent atmosphere of pitch-black bleakness within the eruptions of jolting and shredding violence. The guitars swirl, slither, swarm, dart, and drill, becoming delirious, disease-stricken, exultant, and deeply doleful in their moods. The vocalist’s horrid roars and scalding shrieks augment the stunning intensity of these sonic assaults.
It’s well worth your time to listen to the EP from start to finish, because you’ll find that Sciolism are wise to the need to provide listeners moments in which to catch their breaths and reflect a bit — because most of the time there’s no room for thought in these songs, since you’re mainly hanging on for dear life. I don’t think I’ll tell you when and where the interludes come, just be aware that they will come, and they’re quite good all by themselves.
Sciolism are working on a new release, so we’ll definitely keep our eyes open for that.