SHADES OF BLACK: ABOMINISM, БАТЮШКА, DEADSPACE, DEATHSPELL OMEGA, MISÞYRMING, TOTALITARIAN, VALE, THE WATCHER
(We missed our usual Sunday appointment for the SHADES OF BLACK column, but Andy Synn has stepped in to fill that void with this selection of new releases from the black realms.)
Even though we’ve just come off several days of relative quiet here at NCS (due mostly to a certain Deathfest) we’re already at risk of entering another quiet period as Islander (and various others) gets drawn into the day-to-day running of this year’s edition of Northwest Terror Fest.
However, as luck would have it, I’ve got a massive backlog of artists/albums I’ve been meaning to cover, and so have promised that I’ll deliver something new every day this week so that he doesn’t need to worry about juggling both NCS and NWTF at the same time.
So to kick things off I’ve decided to publish my own version of “Shades of Black” to make up for the lack of one this weekend, featuring short reviews of a bunch of bands, taking in a mix of well-known and (reasonably) obscure names, beginning with…
ABOMINISM – ABOMINISM
Taking its primary cues from Immolation and Gorguts, and then slathering it all with a truly ominous and crushingly oppressive pall of blackened horror, the debut album from Philadelphia two-piece Abominism is one ugly, humongously heavy slab of sonic savagery that’s perfect for fans of Altarage, Ulcerate, and Abyssal (who were fucking fantastic at MDF this weekend, btw).
What makes it really special though (and, as it happens, one of my favourite releases of the year so far) is the little touches, such as the menacing clean backing vocals that permeate “To Live, Dream, and Yet Die As Nothing” or the sinister melodic embellishments on “Seed of Intangible Dwelling”, that only serve to deepen and enhance the overall atmosphere of horrific heaviness.
Of course if you just want your eardrums pounded into submission then you’d be hard-pressed to beat the punishing opening pair of “Burn Them Slowly” and “Predation In Times of Apocalypse”, so my advice to you is that, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll make the time to check this one out asap.
БАТЮШКА – ПАНИХИДА
Obviously there’s been a lot of controversy, confusion, and utter claptrap surrounding the contentious dissolution of Batushka and subsequent reformation of not one, but two different version of the band. And while the he-said, she-said, back and forth between vocalist Bartłomiej Krysiuk and multi-instrumentalist Krzysztof Drabikowski is still going on even now, it’s the latter who’s delivered his album to the masses first with the surprise release of Панихида a few days ago.
Compared to the much more clean and refined style of Litourgiya, the songs on Панихида favour a much more raw, yet still aggressively atmospheric, approach that dispenses with the more ritualistic aspects of the former album to present a more “pure” Black Metal experience.
It’s still very much the product of the same musical mind though, as Krzysztof’s riffing and writing style hasn’t changed all that drastically, so while the relative lack of pomp and circumstance (although don’t worry, the moody, chanted vocals are still very much present and correct) might not work for some people, anyone willing to look past the slight aesthetic differences will still find the underlying experience still very much worth their while.
DEADSPACE – LIBIDO DOMINANDI
The slow evolution of Deadspace away from their slightly melodramatic, goth-inflected roots towards a much more powerful and “pure” (albeit still highly polished) Black Metal sound has been a real joy to experience from a listener perspective.
Interestingly enough, however, their new EP features a step in an even more atmospheric direction, reining in the more extreme aggression they displayed on Dirge earlier this year without losing any of the cathartic intensity in the process.
Both “52” and “Days of Colour” in particular lean into the more eerie and ethereal side of the band’s repertoire, while even the opening and closing tracks, “Libido Dominandi” and “Skin”, deliver an impressive amount of mood-drenched melody to enhance the overall atmosphere and ambience of the EP.
So if you haven’t checked out the band before (or even if you have) this EP should serve as an attention-grabbing introduction to their particular brand of emotive, electrifying Black Metal.
DEATHSPELL OMEGA – THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA
I thought long and hard about whether to include this album. As has become painfully clear, the band’s current vocalist is a real piece of work who possesses and promotes some seriously repugnant ideologies via his various other projects, and I don’t think this is something that we should ignore.
And yet I felt that simply ignoring the existence of this record wasn’t the right option. I think/hope that it’s equally possible to talk about the music AND talk about the issues with its creation/creators at the same time… although I know that’s not likely to be a popular opinion.
On a musical level this album is really good. In fact, on a purely song-writing basis, it’s probably one of the group’s best releases, featuring an impressively intense procession of songs which are cleaner and more concise than ever, but still just as cruel and caustic, overflowing with writhing riffs and weirdly-warped hooks that manage to be as unsettling as they are undeniably effective.
But, of course, music doesn’t exist in a bubble and, ultimately, I feel like each of us has to make up their own mind about where they choose to draw the line in situations like these. If you feel that Mikko’s continued involvement shouldn’t overshadow the music itself then I can understand that perspective. But, similarly, if you feel that his presence is simply something you can no longer countenance… well, I can understand and support that decision too.
MISÞYRMING – ALGLEYMI
If you’ve been paying attention over the last several years you should recall that Misþyrming‘s debut album was one of the best Black Metal albums of 2015, alongside Exercises in Futility and Ghost Chants. As a result, the big question is whether or not Algleymi can match the high standard set by its predecessor… and the answer is yes, it most certainly does, but in a quite unexpected way.
Whereas its predecessor is still considered one of the most archetypal Icelandic Black Metal albums ever recorded, Algleymi embraces a looser, much more rock ‘n’ roll vibe (at certain points I’m even reminded of Nachtmystium at their best), and the extra dose of old-school groove and infectious swagger found on tracks like “Með svipur á lofti” and “Alsæla” helps to set the band apart from their immediate peers even more.
That’s not to say they’ve lost any of their bite, by any means (both “Ísland steingelda krummaskuð” and “Allt sem eitt sinn blómstraði”, for example, are as furious as anything from the band’s debut, with the latter even having a bit of a Mgła vibe in places), but it’s this newfound sense of “anything goes, nothing is forbidden”, combined with the poignant and proportionate use of keyboards to enhance the overall atmosphere, which makes Algleymi such a killer experience from front to back… and quite possibly an even better release than Söngvar elds og óreiðu.
TOTALITARIAN – BLOODLANDS
This Italian group don’t shy away from the most extreme and horrifying aspects of humanity on their newest EP, whose six tracks make for one seriously savage and unforgiving listening experience.
As a matter of fact one of my favourite things about Metal in general is its willingness to peer into the darkest corners of the human heart, to expose and explore the very worst aspects of our shared history, and that’s exactly what the music on Bloodlands does, delving deep into the true horrors of war and man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man over the course of twenty-six terrifying minutes.
Fans of Marduk, Antaeus, and their ilk would do well to grab a hold of this one.
VALE – BURDEN OF SIGHT
There’s been a fair bit of buzz surrounding the debut album from Oakland’s Vale, and with good reason, as the band’s line-up contains current and ex-members of Abstracter, Lycus, and Ulthar (among others).
But having a few famous (or infamous) members doesn’t necessarily make for a good album, you’ve got to have the songs (and the chops) to back it up… which is, thankfully, the case with Burden of Sight.
True, the much-vaunted “Crust” aspects of the band’s sound don’t appear as obvious to my ears as they seem to others – what I primarily hear is some high-energy, slightly thrashy, Black Metal which, at its best, reminds me of fellow US Black Metallers Woe – but the songs themselves are well-written, well-executed, and packed with enough raging riffs and razor-sharp hooks to satisfy all but the most jaded of listeners.
THE WATCHER – KAOSAURA
Finnish five-piece The Watcher produced one of the year’s best Black Metal albums last month… and yet it seems like no-one (including myself) is talking about it!
Which, let me be clear, is an absolute crime, because this is one rampaging slab of visceral, venomous, and virulently infectious Black Metal whose mixture of ravaged, raw-throated vocals, scything guitars, and hammering percussion is balanced by just the right amount of malevolent melody to ensure that the listener keeps coming back for more.
What really makes it work, however, is the way in which every song contributes to the greater whole while also having their own clearly defined identities. Some tracks go straight for the throat, while others groove a little more… some tracks are a little doomier while others prefer to thrash you into submission or blast you into oblivion.
Heck, some tracks even do all these things (and more) in one sitting!
Seriously, I absolutely cannot get enough of this record, and I hope that at least some of you end up feeling the same way.
I have no problem with Mikko, he says what he thinks and doesn’t bother creating some false persona. His interview in the recent Bardo Methodology #5 really makes this clear.
Meanwhile, I know you (Andy) know the behind-the-scenes of the Icelandic scene. But I think many listeners don’t, and they expect everything to sound like Sinmara and Svartidaudi. Dagur Gonzales is part of many projects besides Mysthyrming, and these include Nadra and Oermagna. Both of those are the same band as Mysthyrming, with Oerlygur Sigurdarsson added on vocals, and both are much more rocking than the Mysthyrming debut. So it doesn’t surprise me that the new Mysthyrming is more rocking too, and I think it is a great album (the new DSO is really good too, for the reasons you mention).
Dang, I think you’ve just reminded me that I never covered Örmagna. I meant to, they just fell between the cracks. I’ll try and sneak them in at some point so more people give them a listen.
I do like how the Icelandic scene seems to be taking some serious steps to expand and diversify at the moment. Like you said, most people would probably name Sinmara and Svartidauði when asked about the bands who epitomise “the Icelandic sound”, but even they have moved farther apart from one another on the recent records… with various other bands also moving, subtly, in other directions too.
Real question, does any actually know if Mikko is the vocalist?
Research only turns up some tenuous guesses at best. I undertake this hunt every few years, out of curiosity, boredom… Ive no idea, but I do know that I’ve doubts that hes even involved or ever been involved at all.
I think its okay to put the DSO review here (if the lyrics were clearly racist it would be different I think.. The lyrics on this album are only problematic when you know the guys background). Now people can make up their own mind. For me, even if the music is the best they ever made.. I wont buy this album. I don’t want to financially support someone with such ideas.
LOL at anyone who’s going to be feisty about this, but has it really ever been certain who the vocalist is?
I know what it says on MA and I know what people say, but the truth is no one really ‘knows’.
Their last interview, done by proxy, was from 2004. They’ve never played live. They’ve never confirmed or denied who’s in the band. Even the two that are consider known aren’t really seemingly proven in any case.
MA even states that the case is made on the sharing of the Crushing the Holy Trinity split and the fact that the vocal styles are very specific to Mikko. Frankly, as a listener of many extreme things, I honestly cant say that I find his vocal delivery to be that specific that it hasn’t been copied by hundreds of other black metal vocalists. Its not the like guy is Mark of the Devil from Cultes Des Ghoules. That guys unique and even then I dont think Id be able to pick him out of a blind lineup, unless he did that sucking sound thats so fucking eerie.
So, anyone got any data here? On one hand it would be nice to not associate him with this band, but on the other, Im not really a huge DsO fan anyway, so who cares. Theres so much metal that not having to worry about a few records will enable me to spend more time with records by bands I know I love.
Irrespective of my personal opinion, I can say Im glad the DsO issue has been brought up. For many bands, that doesnt happen upon being reviewed. Probably makes for repetitive reading….
Way back when, black metal was all about being extreme, in whatever way you saw fit.
All of the sudden this vegan, feminist, shoegaze segment have taken a liking to the musical style and now it has to pass through the uterus censorship bullshit so it doesnt step on anyone’s toes? Fuckin bullshitt!!! Im offended wah wah wah…
It definitely sounds like youre offended. Lol.
It’s great that after 15 years of more or less being sure about his involvement people start paying attention. But how silly many are acting right now is a shame for a music community that you would expect to enjoy art that tries to work with “the darkest corners of the human heart, to expose and explore the very worst aspects of our shared history”. Because that’s the context DsO’s work always made sense in but now gets misinterpreted at will as if there’s no context necessary to interpret it besides Aspa’s affiliations. It is very good that you don’t discredit this project, which does neither stem from Aspa alone nor is amplification for his ideals.
Also theirs and Misþyrming’s new album are great, Vale’s debut is also very enjoyable imo.
In a sense, you cant really critique those who find the acceptance of aspe and others like him dispicable. It is their right to imagine a scene without such people and ideas. Just like you, in a way, can voice your opinion, saying those people who dislike aspe and others are naive.
I find the argument that runs ‘extreme metal is dangerous so you’re a hypocrite when you are outraged at racist views within metal’ an oversimplification. It is similar to saying: ‘war is dangerous and soldiers and civilians who are killed in a conflict should have stayed out of it’. (A little hyperbole goes a long way, hehe.)
Rather than calling critical people ‘a shame’ for a community, I’d attribute autonomy to people to let them decide for themselves what they want to hear or not. That’s what metal is about, not shutting up about things you do not agree with.
Apart from that, what ‘community’ do you refer to, specifically, and why can you specifically decide what is and isn’t a shame for that community, anyway? I dont feel there is one community in metal.
Anyway, juat my two cents.
Yeah, I see that this was phrased very much along the lines of calling people hypocrites for disliking it. I do not like that stance myself, so I should have paid attention how to mention that. I do very much appreciate that we are in the know and are able to choose to financially boycott them just for working with him. What I do not like, to be more clear, is that even more through comments of recipients on extreme music websites than in the articles themself things start to appear calling Aspa a pedophile. Which, as far as I can retrace it, is diffamation. He leaves clearer traces with his CoT material, so be aware, but don’t jump the boat. Also whatever fascist imagery people find in Palingenesia it will now immediately be interpreted as Aspas call to arms of national socialist communities. The whole picture seems more agitated than reasoned and I feel agitated by that in return. The communication in that regard leads me to believe that there is actually a lack of autonomy involved in the process of talking about this topic atm.
So I hope this paints a clearer picture than the maybe unnecessarily strong language I used at first.
I think one would be doing a huge disservice to the readers by deliberately not featuring Deathspell Omega on this blog, considering how important this band is in the (not so) underground black metal scene.
As several other people have pointed out already: it has never been confirmed that Mikko Aspa (who I assume you’re referring to) is the vocalist of Deathspell Omega. Should the band be excluded based on an _assumed_ association? And even if he is, indeed, the vocalist – so what? Should Deathspell Omega be excluded because _other_ bands/projects promote “repugnant ideologies”? And what are “repugnant ideologies” in black metal anyway? Black metal isn’t exactly known for having lyrics about sunshine and rainbows.
I don’t know what ideologies Mikko Aspa promotes, and frankly I don’t care. Whether or not he is involved in the band, Deathspell Omega doesn’t seem to touch upon any more “repugnant” themes than most other black metal bands. His personal opinions or what he expresses in unrelated projects should be a simple footnote, at most!
eitororm makes a point: on another favorite website, there was discussion of Mikko’s abhorrent ideologies, which is all well and good. But other recent BM albums which (rightfully) received rave reviews included albums with titles like “Fields of Blood” (Vous autres) and “Slit Throat Requiem”. I know the argument is that NS is somehow uniquely evil and a current threat, but BM and DM focus on death and murder and everything. Ask the parents of the schoolchildren in Kawasaki what the biggest threat is: basic human depravity (celebrated to some extent by BM or DM) or “national socialism”.
Ones intent and the other is imagery.
Now it would be grand of me to assume I know for certain, so lets take it with a grain of salt, but I doubt Sicarius wants to go around actually slitting peoples throats. And frankly, who hasn’t had the desire to snuff at least one troublesome individual from their life. A bully, a shitty boss, an ex lover.
I would never do such a thing, but sometimes when youre mad you can fantasize about dark work and generally get over it ok.
Again, I cant say with any certainty, but theres a lot of unsettling themes and imagery in the new DsO. The video alone, but you can also read all the lyrics yourself and make your own judgements. Either way, its certainly not something I care to delve deeper into. It reads like a fascist manifesto, and frankly, I was surprised, because I always thought, regardless of the vocals, that they didn’t really dip their toes in the political pool. Perhaps Im just mistaken about the lyrics, but thats the thing about music, art, poetry, its open to interpretation and if the guys themselves dont want to stand forward and say what they are intending, then its up to the listener to decide.
Also, anyone who would credit Mikko with the lyrics is probably off. If hes involved I doubt he wrote the lyrics. I personally dont think hes involved, because something about it doesn’t make sense. Why would these two reclusive french guys, ever sworn to secrecy, have some well known and very logistically far away vocalist? It really doesn’t add up.
Lastly… I dont personally think Mikko is a racist. People always up in arms about that. Dude has explained rather succinctly, to my standards, that hes a deep seated misanthrope and that reads well across his entire work. Hes also got a video of him jerking off on a dying mouse, so I mean…. millions of things to be into in this world… I can safely say Ive avoided the imagery brought on by that act up til recent times and I’m happy to continue marching past it and hope to someday blunt the edges.
To be clear, I am not a fan of him. Thats my personal opinion and Im not gonna sit and say the music scene is better without him. To each their own. I just dont have to like it and its really easy to just ignore things I dont like rather than getting all up in arms hoping for social change.
There will always be racists, and there will always be Mikkos. There will always be sensitive people and there will always be sociopaths. There will also be everything in between. One things for sure, a lot of the rhetoric lately seems to forget that human life is ever more complex than the taking of two sides.