(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.