SHADES OF BLACK (PART 1): KEYS OF ORTHANC, HAGZISSA, SLAUGHTBBATH, SERPENT COLUMN
I couldn’t get this post finished in time to occupy its usual place on Sunday. So, as promised yesterday, I’m posting it now to make your Monday more miserable.
I divided this into two parts, which gives me more time to finish it and might also make all the music easier to digest. There IS a lot to digest here — taking these two Parts together, you’ll find five advance tracks and three full albums.
KEYS OF ORTHANC
I missed this Quebec black metal band’s 2018 debut album, Dush agh Golnauk. Their second one, A Battle in the Dark Lands of the Eye…, will be coming out via Naturmacht Productions on August 31st. The cover art alone — a creation by Canadian artist Ted Nasmith called “The Shadow of Sauron” — is so fantastic that checking out the music was an irresistible choice. (Nasmith’s cover art for this band’s debut album — here — is also fantastic, but I must not have seen it.)
Ted Nasmith is a noted illustrator of Tolkein’s works, and Keys of Orthanc have similarly based their work on Tolkein’s tales; Orthanc itself, for example, is the name of Saruman’s black tower in The Lord of the Rings. Naturmacht describes their new album as one that’s “all about the war of man and orc, between light and darkness in the gloomy lands of Mordor”.
“Besieged“, the first track revealed in advance of release, integrates remarkably well with the artwork chosen for the album. The heavy thunder and rumble in the low end is reflected in the vulcanism and the lightning storms on the cover. The swirling riffs and ringing keyboard tones convey magical incantations. The terrible conflict represented in the artwork is matched by the grim, ominous, majestic, and sorrowful moods of the melodies and by the searing intensity of the boiling, writhing chords. The epic scale of that conflict also comes through in the wide-ranging vocals — in the scalding viciousness of the shrieks and the monstrous tyranny of the growls, and in the solemn and extravagant tones of the clean vocals.
“Epic” is of course an overworked term, but this song scales epic heights and is a worthy homage to Tolkein‘s great narrative.
I closed another one of these columns in June with the first advance track from They Ride Along, the debut album by the Austrian black metal band Hagzissa, which Iron Bonehead Productions will release on August 23rd. Recently DECIBEL premiered another track, which is also really damned good.
This new one, “Moonshine Glance (An Iron Seed in Sour Soil“, is lead-weighted, swaggering, and as grim as premeditated murder. When the riffing begins to seethe and soar as the drums switch from rocking to blasting, the music becomes even more chilling. The chords hammer and thrum as accompaniment to bestial howls and extravagant singing, and the song’s head-nodding infectiousness, anchored by a heavy-hitting rhythm section, proves to be irresistible.
In 2017 we premiered the last record by the Chilean black metal band Slaughtbbath. Released by Hells Headbangers, it was a compilation of tracks recorded for four previously released splits, but also included a new song. What Slaughtbbath are bringing us next is their second album, Alchemical Warfare, which follows their 2013 debut full-length Hail To Fire.
That compilation was hellishly good, and so is the first single from the new album. “Resuscitated by Immortal Scorn” is an explosive eruption of brazen, fire-breathing, thrashing black metal that wastes no time getting the listener’s adrenaline pumping. With vocals that are scorching in their ferocity and a drum-and-bass attack that shakes the spine, the superheated riffing channels chaos and carnage, segmented by extravagant melodic blasts. To repeat: hellishly good!
Alchemical Warfare will be released by Hells Headbangers on September 6th.
Ornuthi Thalassa, the 2017 debut album by the mysterious Serpent Column, was a mind-bender on multiple levels. As I discussed in a too-short review, it was inspired by The Iliad, and nearly half of all the vocal arrangements were in Ancient Greek. Moreover, as this two-person band told us: ““Very little of this music is ‘played’ like music – it was constructed more like a painting, with us adding a single layer at a time and tediously fitting every detail into the whole. Just to lay the foundation of the album with the first guitar parts took six months, while the subsequent recording process took eight.”
Needless to say, it was exciting to learn that Serpent Column will be releasing a new album. Entitled Mirror in Darkness, it’s coming out on September 9th through the Mystískaos label (a collaboration among Alex Poole (Skáphe, Chaos Moon, Entheogen), Icelandic musician H.V Lyngdal (Wormlust, Guðveiki, Ljáin, Martröð), and the person who was the proprietor of the Fallen Empire label). For the new album, one of the two U.S. musicians who recorded the first album (Theophonos) has now done everything, with a guest appearance by D. Lyons.
“Promise of the Polis” is what’s been made public from the album so far. A jolting detonation is all the warning you get before the music assaults the senses in a frenzy of clattering drums, cyclonic riffing, massive bass thrusts, searing leads, and unhinged vocal extremity. The higher guitar tones whip and writhe in displays of lunacy that equal the insane delirium of the vocals. It’s a dense and intricate storm of debilitating sounds, with those gigantic rhythmic booms reappearing to keep the music from going completely off the rails.
The song does rocket to exhilarating peaks of rampant cacophony. Bursts of earthquake-like bass and drum strike again and again, and eerie, wraithlike tones swirl out from the melee. It takes more than one listen to fully appreciate the intricacy of the composition, because first impressions are capable of overwhelming rational thought. In a word, breathtaking.
The excellent cover artwork for Mirror in Darkness is by Jane Morris Pack.
Re. Slaughbbath: Previous albums 2015’s /Hail to Fire/ and 2017’s /Contempt, War and Damnation/ are very good indeed!