SHADES OF BLACK (PART 1): NOCTEM, GRIMA, TONGUE, DISPOSSESSED, TEMPLUM ANIMA MORTI, NYSS
As you can see, I’ve planned a two-part SOB again. I doubt I’ll finish Part 2 in time to post it today, and even if I do, I think I’ll defer it to Monday anyway. With so many new-music round-ups lately, I’m afraid we’re at risk of overloading people already, especially because this Part 1 includes four full releases in addition to the two advance tracks I’ve placed at the beginning (and there are additional complete releases in what I have in mind for Part 2)..
We’ve been closely following the progress of the Spanish band Noctem since 2011, when they released their second album, Oblivion. Four of us have written about the band over the years since then, amassing 16 different posts about them (including two interviews). Obviously, we are fans. But we have equally been persistently curious about what they would do next.
Noctem’s music has always been a blend of death and black metal, but the sound hasn’t remained stagnant. It might go too far to say there has been a continuous trajectory over time, but in general it seems like in the earlier years they were more death-metal focused, whereas the last album, 2016’s Haeresis, leaned more toward the black metal elements in their sound. Based on the title track from their new album, The Black Consecration, it sounds like they’re leaning even harder in that direction, and have in other ways made shifts in sound from their last record.
The band themselves have stated about the new album: “It consists in our most atmospherical and raw album to date, not a logical evolution but a big change from our sound in our previous album Haeresis, darker, dirtier and faster. So be ready for a new direction into the most abysmal darkness”.
“The Black Consecration” (the song) is an absolute beast of a track. Noctem have already proven time and again their ability to launch high-speed musical shock-and-awe campaigns, and this one is for most of its duration a howling blast-a-thon, even though it begins with a ritualistic drum beat and dismal buzzing chords. The bleak, chilling atmosphere of the opening persists even when the thundering percussion and cruel, scalding vocals take off, eventually joined by swirling leads, which have a desolate sound despite the feverishness of their vibrations.
When the drums begin tumbling and the big bass tones thrum heavily, the song becomes more fiery (and the vocals more wild), as the music surges in a manifestation of violent chaos, diverted only briefly by a less frenetic and more miserable interlude. The sorrow in the melody of that interlude doesn’t disappear, however, even when the song explodes again… and the soft acoustic finale underscores the melancholy mood.
It will be a long wait for The Black Consecration (the album). Art Gates Records has set November 1st as the release date. Pre-order options won’t be announced until after the summer. The artwork was created by Credo quia Absurdum.
Grima is a two-person project (the twin brothers Velhelm and Morbius from the dark woods of Siberian Russia) that has existed since 2014 as a studio-only project, with a pagan ethos “based on the worship of the elder forest, its power and magic, where the Grima is a supreme god… a powerful spirit, who protects only those who live in a forest, and punishes everyone who does not respect nature”.
It has been two-and-a-half years since we last visited the music of Grima, when we premiered a song from their second album, Tales of the Enchanted Woods, in advance of its February 2017 release by Naturmacht Productions. Now Grima are returning, again with the aid of Naturmacht, with a new album named Will of the Primordial. Based on the album’s first single, it’s going to be a very welcome return.
“Enisey” washes over the mind in immense, magisterial tones, rumbling and rolling like an avalanche in the low end and soaring spectacularly in the shining upper reaches of the sound. The vocals are extravagantly intense, though the band pick their moments to soften the intensity and increase both the moodiness and the mystical wondrousness of the music.
Will of the Primordial was mixed and mastered by Vladimir Lekhtinen. It will be released on August 3rd.
I confess I had lost track of the German band Tongue after they released their debut album in 2015, which I briefly reviewed here, even though I ended that review by calling that self-titled record “a very impressive debut by a band worth watching closely”. It was thanks to a tip from starkweather that I discovered Tongue would soon be releasing a new album, and on July 5th they did that (via The Crawling Chaos Records).
The name of the new one is What Do We Know of Horror. Before I get to a few regrettably brief thoughts about the music, I want to share the lyrics from the title track, which I found quite (disturbingly) memorable:
Behold the wretched creature hunting in the dark
Lurching among the bones of long-dead preys
Empty stares of contempt, skeletal grins of mockery
for an apex predator in a world devoid of game
Its fangs and claws dulled by disuse and time
with all the throats to rip into forever out of reach
Behind those eyes, the age-old pain
We have seen its fright, but never have we felt it
We can speak of its woes, but we cannot comprehend
We can learn of its ways, as we watch from afar
But we know nothing, nothing, of its true horror
That particular title track, which is set to play first in the Bandcamp stream, is a gripping experience. There’s a sense of desperation in the dense waves of guitar, the frantic bass lines, the hurtling drums, and the fierce, throat-ripping vocals — and a forlorn, haunting mood in the beautiful clean guitar melody that’s at the center of the instrumental interlude. When the interlude ends, the song transforms into something much more doomed in its mood (the vocals also drop into a deep roar) before another frenzy of agony. In addition to these changes, the song also includes some compulsively head-moving changes in rhythm and riffing.
The dynamism, and dramatic emotional power, of the title track are manifested in every other song on the album. The spectra of sound and mood across the songs range from explosions of harrowing yet electrifying intensity, anchored by über-deep, and unusually prominent bass rhythms (the bass really does have a co-starring role on this record) and high-velocity drumwork, to more measured (yet grim) marches and ascents to summits of bleak grandeur. The band also continue to provide brief instrumental respites and segues, which don’t detract from the darkness of the music but instead reveal it in different haunting dimensions, and the variations in the vocals also continue, becoming even more variable as the album proceeds.
As mentioned, the album is available through Bandcamp. The cover art is by Timon Kokott.
Dispossessed are another band I had lost track of before being pointed to their newest release by starkweather. They made some early waves back in the spring of 2016 with their debut album Insurgency, thanks in part to a profile in Vice that heralded their uncompromising condemnations of the colonization of Indigenous people by “invaders, rapists and mutilators”, “fueled by the members’ blend of Aboriginal, Filipino and Ghanaian backgrounds”, and called them “the most unapologetic and important band in Australian metal today”.
What motivates Dispossessed hasn’t changed in the ensuing years (though as you’ll hear, their sound has evolved into something more violent since that debut album). Their Bandcamp page proclaims: “We are not here to heal your white guilt. We are here to destroy all those who stand in our path. We are vessels carrying our ancestor’s wrath, sorrow and vengeance”. Of the themes of their new album, Warpath Never Ended, they state, in reference to Australia: “This will always was and always will be Aboriginal land. The fire is still burning. We pray for the day that it catches and the land can be healed amidst the ashes. The grip of the coloniser will be broken, and until then we fan the flames together. There has been no surrender. Sovereignty has never been ceded. The warpath never ended”.
Dispossessed are clearly on a warpath in this new album, unleashing an explosive assault of black/death metal, making use of blazing drum fusillades, vicious, dissonance-laced riffing, and furious roaring and howling vocal tirades that become unhinged in their intensity. There’s frequently an unhinged quality to the songs as a whole, but Dispossessed also drop into slow, cold, doom-stricken interludes that sometimes seem mournful and sometimes murderous, like the stalking of a giant predator whose ponderous movements shake the ground.
Dispossessed also prove themselves capable of jolting your head with massive, pile-driving grooves. Further, the opening movement of “Bloodied Inflorescence” is even beautiful — before it becomes catastrophically desolating — and the acoustic guitar instrumental “Guni Yu-Gi” (backed by bird-sounds and a light ambient shimmer) has a wistful, mesmerizing quality that causes it to stand out from everything else.
As already suggested, the music is heavy as hell in multiple ways — sludgy and spine-shaking in the power of its low-end, and emotionally scarring as well. But in addition to the softer moments already mentioned, the band also spice the music with lighter and more mercurial melodic accents (some of them borrowing from electronica), which make the songs more interesting — but don’t really diminish the force of its daunting mix of fury and pain.
TEMPLUM ANIMA MORTI
Like Dispossessed, this next band is making its first appearance at our site. Like Grima, they are from Russia, but from Moscow rather than Siberia. Since 2013 they’ve released a demo and three EPs, the most recent of which is ⍢χ͔Ω ΣằğΩþ χ͔åᵲằǻϻ. It appeared in February of this year, but is so good that I diverted from my usual course of highlighting just-released music.
The titles of all 8 songs on this new EP are rendered in a perplexing assortment of alphabetic characters followed by a parenthetical word in English. The word accompanying the title track is “vortex”, and so we can presumably understand the album title in the same way. The band fuels its creations with mystifying spiritual inspirations, and the live performances have the trappings of ritual (one live video I watched was performed by the vocalist sitting cross-legged and naked, or nearly so, in a state of apparent possession).
The ritualistic aspects of the music become immediately apparent through the throat-singing in the opening track, but after that the band come to a boil (though it may be a boiling invocation). The vocals have a crocodilian character, expressing the lyrics slowly in those ugly, bestial tones, almost like a chant, and the dissonant, freakish, chiming melodies glimmer uneasily, but the snare drums race like the wind most of the time, pausing just long enough here and there to make space for the band to do something hallucinatory.
Once again, I owe thanks to Rennie of starkweather for pointing me to this album. His own summing up of the music: “Jackhammer drumming, croaking vocals, icy dissonant guitar work, ambient breaks. Sonic information parceled out in short doses. Almost an electro infused DsO crossed with satanica Behemoth“.
To close Part 1 of this week’s collection I’ve chosen a new EP named Ravens by the experimental black metal band Nyss (whose leader is French but who have been based in the UK since 2016, and who also render their name Þ). The EP was released on the 5th of July, and I paid attention to it because I’ve found their previous releases, which I’ve written about before, so unconventional and so fascinating. This one is too.
Nyss began as a one-man project of Þórir Nyss, and then expanded to include vocalist L.C. Bullock, and now also includes cellist François Boyenval — and the addition of the cello provides a worthy new dimension of sound within Nyss‘s conceptions.
You really have to clear your mind of expectations and prejudices when you go into this one. That’s not to say you’ll enjoy it — I don’t know you well enough to make that prediction — but if you’re the adventurous sort, on the hunt for something off the usual beaten paths, you might become as captivated by these three peculiar but immersive tracks as I have.
The first one, “Elegance“, is simple, but disturbing. It’s mostly a looping cycle of bursting and droning percussive sounds and a slightly distorted spoken-word recital, almost like one side of a conversation, or a monologue inside someone’s head (with some occasional ghostly reverberations in the background). Unfortunately, I don’t know if the words are original or if the prose has been lifted from another source. When the voice ceases for a minute, those destabilizing rhythms continue, but the music takes us off into an astral glide path where angelic voices begin communicating something mysterious. Things get more harrowing after that (and perhaps the cello makes a first appearance).
“The Sleeper“, on the other hand, is immediately spellbinding — slow, glimmering, and mystical. The cello’s ephemeral emanations, coming and going like wraiths, are chilling but seductive. It creates a contrast with “Elegance“, lulling the listener into a mysterious dream state, the dream unbroken by voices.
The EP ends with “The Low Supreme“, which is a different experience from both of the first two tracks. Multi-textured and vibrant, everything rings, reverberates, and shines like crystal at first, like entering a house of rotating musical mirrors. And then all those glorious, sparkling tones are joined by rhythmic bursts of craggy bass guitar and a pungent percussive beat, making the song both unearthly and earthy at the same time. There might be a harsh voice in here, but it’s tough to tell. If you’d been able to see me by the end, you’d have seen the whites of my eyes, all the way around.
Ravens is supposed to be the first part of a two-part series. I’ll be watching with wide eyes for the conclusion.
Grima are quite good, especially Tales of the Enchanted Woods, which is a big improvement on the not-bad Devotion to Lord debut. But stupid me, I know Tolkien is quite popular in Russia, and I assumed they took their name from Wormtongue, from The Lord of the Rings.