photo by Vamperess Imperium
Beginning with 2014, Semjaza, the main creative force behind the Greek black metal band Thy Darkened Shade, has shared with us his year-end lists of favorite metal and non-metal releases. However, rather than prepare year-end lists for 2018, Semjaza embarked on a much more extensive project that would not be limited to releases from that year, but would encompass recommended music across the significant span of his listening (a significant span both in years and in genres). Most of this project was completed many months ago, and therefore does not include many of this year’s releases — and the delays in beginning to post it have been our own, not his.
But now we begin, with this post, which includes an introduction and lists of favored split releases and full-length releases, and a special focus on French black metal. Further installments will appear in the coming weeks.
Having listened to metal music since I was a little kid, I have seen various great and not-so-great things happening within this very movement. Most people prefer to either keep silent or to completely ignore the bad things for their own reasons, which I do not really care to elaborate on. I have been amazed by what is overly promoted within the metal scene right now. It is scary how easy it is for some to either fall into the trap of stupid advertising campaigns or simply follow any trends and ignore real soulful music. I can get the following of trends by the rather very young listener, who is easily convinced, but not from the ones who know what this music really stands for, or those who have been listening to this kind of music for many years.
Most of the big labels can happily promote their paid advertisement releases with great reviews, and many listeners just buy the trends made by the system. The main thing that really bothers me concerning this is the following: The advertised bands end up having the budget they need to tour and record, but the underground bands lack the money to record and properly mix and master their albums (there are obviously exceptions; there are exceptions to every rule).
Therefore, I decided it is just a fine day to stare once again inwards and post some of the releases I have listened to a lot over the past year (old and new, known and not so known) in order to spread an alternative mindset. Thanks to NCS, this will reach more people than just a Facebook post, a medium that I use in order to spread great music created by others, as well as my own creations.
I have been indifferent to the market and the mania of some who care more about soulless limited editions and their pink coloured pieces of vinyl, instead of the acumen of real art. The tendency for sheep-like behaviour, listening to whatever is hot, cool, or over-promoted is way too common. That’s nothing to moan about since it is very natural, given that some listeners rarely think about anything anyway.
Within the majority of the current black metal scene, when someone actually thinks about what he listens to, he suddenly becomes an outcast or a romantic idiot. This mindset is the opposite of the traditional black metal mindset that pissed on all infidels, all those who were making fun of the arts. The fun attitude and the brainless sentiments of a lot of people concerning black metal play seriously with my nerves. The “I grew out of it” attitude and the ”get over it, we are here just for the music” statements are an indication of zero understanding towards black metal as a whole. The diehard stance and the passion, along with the willingness to call forth the otherworldly, spawned the best and most classic of releases within the black/death metal underground. I wonder if all those black metal innovators who created the holiest of their works when their blood was boiling could recognize the difference between their conscious “getting over the diehard mindset of bm” albums and their unconscious and relentlessly devoted and channeled masterpieces.
I have also seen listeners blindly accepting bootleg releases. It is too hard for them to understand that their favourite artists have been exploited in order for the bootleg to be released by a random leech of the scene. Maybe it is more important for them to show off their bootlegs to their circle of friends than to really support heartfelt efforts. However, they utter bombastic “support the underground” statements while they spit on the underground in the worst possible ways.
It’s never too late to reconsider things. The tendency of bands and labels to produce whatever sells in each period of time is also highly deplorable. Let’s not forget that this is totally against the fundamental traditional values of the traditional metal movement.
The initial heavy metal mindset wanted and spawned forth bands who had individual sound and vision — a metal vision that was opposed to exactly that: trends, society, the mainstream, and posers. All the former enemies of metal are happy to be part of this way of expression since it’s all about their money, and in that way they can make it establishment-friendly too. They have been trying to do similar things with black metal for many years now. Oppose anyone who wants metal to be the same as Hollywood soap opera.
The unwillingness to comprehend the masterpieces of our times by the moaners who claim that music was only “true” in the ’80s, the ’90s or the ’00s is also very present. Real art knows no boundaries and knows no time, since it is timeless. Too many people are too bored to concentrate on new music, and they concentrate on moaning instead.
I also very much like to state things as they are. For instance, black metal is defined as devilish art. Anything else may be a fine, or not a fine, piece of art, but certainly it is not black metal. If defined otherwise, it is like calling progressive metal the music of a band who use only violins. I do listen to a lot of music which is not black metal obviously, and this statement has nothing to do with the quality of the music but concerns the definition that confuses many. It’s very simple — the Satanic concept added to metal music is what defined black metal (the devil’s metal) from the very beginning. Many flyers from the ’80s prove exactly what I am talking about.
Bands like Celtic Frost, Bathory, Hellhammer, Mercyful Fate, Sodom, Slayer, Destruction, even the first releases by Running Wild, were considered black metal exactly due to their concept and their combining of it with metal music. I see that it is common for some of the older bands to deny what defines black metal. I guess it is great that I used to read zines (and I still do) and that I can therefore remind them of what they used to say back in the day. But most of them (if not all of them) certainly believed what I have stated here years before me, and I thank them for that, since it was inspirational. Let’s repeat, Immortal or Enslaved have made statements that they were never black metal exactly due to that. I have no problems with people who change, however I find it interesting when people lie about their past to appear as they want to appear decades later.
Also, what is happening to quite a few of the bands nowadays? They should stop pretending that they perform anything spiritual. They should just say they do shows, and not rituals. It is better to be honest about what one does. Most of these people do not even know what a pentagram is, and this makes them fake. Remember, Venom for instance weren’t exactly masters of the mystical but they formed one of the most important and innovative black metal bands of all time. Also, some bands need to stop stealing other people’s spiritual work or blatantly ripping off books. It is lame and makes it hard to take them seriously.
Last but not least, let’s turn to music (apart from some really obvious classics) that always stays with me. Here are some of the releases (old and new) that I do listen to these days. Share them and spread them like venom. Real art stays, while trends fade away.
Up the Irons
Down to Hell
I once did a FB post to list some of my favourite black metal split releases of all time. I think it will be fine if I spread the evil word here as well. Ηere they are in alphabetical order:
Abigor / Blacklodge – Time Is The Sulphur In The Veins Of The Saint – An Excursion On Satan’s Fragmenting Principle / [3rd Level Initiation = Chamber Of Downfall]
Antaeus / Katharsis
Arckanum / Svartsyn – Kaos Svarta Mar / Skinning the Lambs
Beherit / Archgoat – Messe des Morts / Angelcunt
Deathspell Omega / S.V.E.S.T. – Veritas Diaboli Manet in Aeternum
Emperor / Enslaved – Emperor / Hordanes Land
Horna / Behexen
Mütiilation / Antaeus / Deathspell Omega / Malicious Secrets – From the Entrails to the Dirt
Necromantia / Varathron – The Black Arts / The Everlasting Sins (maybe this is the best split of all times)
Nihil Nocturne / Nightbringer / Saturnalia Temple / Aluk Todolo – On the Powers of the Sphinx
Thorns vs. Emperor
Vlad Tepes / Belkètre – March to the Black Holocaust
Here are a few gems I found myself re-listening to a lot lately:
Averse Sefira – Tetragrammatical Astygmata
I wasn’t fully into this album when it came out but I recently re-discovered it and became really enthusiastic about it. Individualistic technical black metal, a release that I don’t own but I will try to buy soon.
Black Crucifixion – The Fallen One Of Flames
This killer demo is too obvious for me to mention. But I’ve heard people who don’t even know it. I remember a time when people were only concentrating on Norwegian black metal. Norwegian black metal for sure gave birth to some of the best masterpieces of the bm genre but there was a maelstrom of true underground bm bands worldwide who deserved exactly the same attention.
Comus – First Utterance
Returning to the inspiration that ’70s prog rock can offer me is always priceless. But apart from the classic bands like Rush, Pink Floyd, Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Marillion, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, etc., there are always underground gems for us to dig. Comus is a dark psychedelic prog rock band and First Utterance is one of the best albums I have heard in that style.
Devil Doll – Everything
This band is an obvious favourite of mine, one of the best bands ever on earth, total worship, huge influence.
Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
I found myself revisiting this unholy gem of an album more in the last days. What a totally evil piece of an album is this? Even the most diehard listener will shit his pants while listening to this dark Satanic blasphemy.
Kathaaria – The Complex Void of Negativity
Why so few people mention this album puzzles me. They prefer to listen to some fake morons who pretend to be monks instead. Listen to this and forget trends.
Misery – Mystic
It’s not a secret that I am a huge listener of early Rotting Christ and early Samael. This obscure release summons forth both bands. There is also an extra Celtic Frost flavour but it has an obvious individual feel as well. Death/doom/black and everything in between. Α killer album that I always wondered why so few people speak about. The first drummer of Samael and also Xytraguptor plays here, therefore the Samael comparisons are obvious. It is important to mention this was released in 1993, far away from the “I copy my favourite old sound” trend, and obviously it is heartfelt. A serious label needs to re-release this on vinyl.
Manes – Under Ein Blødraud Maan
Manes released a new album this year called Slow Motion Death Sequence, which was a good experimental album that reminds me somehow of the experimental era of Ulver. But how many remember their Under Ein Blødraud Maan album and why do I rarely see anyone mentioning it? I just come again and again back to this and I consider it one of the hidden gems of Norway along with Kvist’s For kunsten maa vi evig vike and Aptorian Demon’s Libertus. Very distinctive black metal with a bleak atmosphere and vocals straight from the pits of hell. It is one of those albums where the drum machine actually isn’t annoying too (something that I rarely say, but even that rule has its exceptions).
Memento Mori – Rhymes of Lunacy
Mike Wead is one of the best metal guitarists and Messiah Marcolin one of the best metal vocalists. They joined forces once upon a time to release this classic doom metal masterpiece. One of my favourite doom metal records ever, right there with Candlemass for me, and I have been listening to it even more lately. Now let’s wait until the new Crypt Sermon album will be available for us to worship. And I assure everyone it will rule as well. And what about their amazingly great cover of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” featuring TT from Abigor? (Editor’s note: As explained at the outset, this piece was written months ago, and of course the new Crypt Sermon album is out now, and available for listening here.)
Mystifier – Goetia
Another classic masterpiece of the underground that I have revisited a lot lately, one that deserves more attention.
Necromass – Mysteria Mystica Zofiriana
This true masterpiece of spiritual black metal has possessed me since my school years. Unusual style and completely ritualistic mood.
Nefandus – Death Holy Death
An underground masterpiece, one of the best bm releases of the recent years from the main man of the mighty Ofermod. This album is surely an unsung classic and “Samaelic Madness Code” is one of my favourite black metal tracks these days.
Nox – Ixaxaar
I certainly adore this technical piece of Satanic death metal. It is always welcome when I hear any Trey Azagthoth-influenced riffs done with a profound intent. But Nox are not just inspired by the genius of Morbid Angel, they also offer their own signature to their death metal sound. Metal that worships holy death, that’s it. Along with Shaarimoth and Kaamos, Nox are some of my favourite underground death metal bands.
Nocturnus – The Key
Mike Browning is a killer death metal musician. The Key is a metal classic that everyone should own. Also, from the tracks I’ve heard, the new Nocturnus AD will be a classic as well.
Order of the Ebon Hand – The Devil
An overlooked release of the Hellenic black metal underground with a relevant concept from people who believe in what they write. This is certainly one of the top bm releases from Hellas for me. Have been listening to this since it was out and consider it a masterpiece. I always become lost while listening to “Marchosias” for instance.
I have also been listening to various classic Hellenic releases from the metal underground that I grew up with, like Rotting Christ‘s Thy Mighty Contract, Necromantia/Varathron – The Black Arts/The Everlasting Sins, Zemial’s Face of the Conqueror/Necrolatry, as well as more recent releases like Ravencult’s Morbid Blood, The One‘s I Master, and death metal ones like Graves of the Archangels/Sombre Doom by Dead Congregation.
Predatory Light – Predatory Light
Doom black metal of death. I can hear a mix of Mortuary Drape, Varathron, and Negative Plane, while obviously retaining its own personality. A fine debut release.
Serpent Noir – Sanguis XI
Speaking about underground Hellenic black metal, this is simply one of the best releases from here. Living here makes it easier to know who is really into what they write about. I find myself returning again and again to this great EP. This is true spiritual black metal art.
Tehom – The Merciless Light
Great spiritual death metal, the way it should be!
IT died a year ago and I revisited his works once again, giving emphasis to the first two unique Abruptum masterpieces and the great A Journey in Darkness (Ophthalamia).
Black Metal from France
I have been completely mesmerized by some of the older French bm releases again lately. From the mighty S.V.E.S.T to Vlad Tepes, Mütiilation, Drastus, Diapsiquir, Blacklodge, obviously DsO, Antaeus, etc.. Among these, some of the most-listened releases of mine are the following:
1. Asmodée – Aequilanx
2. Antaeus – Blood Libels
3. Blacklodge – Solarkult
4. Deathspell Omega – Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice (One of the best albums of all time)
5. Diapsiquir – Virus STN
6. Drastus – Serpent’s Chalice – Materia Prima
7. Moëvöt – Abgzvoryathre
8. Mütiilation – Destroy Your Life for Satan
9. Nehëmah – Light of a Dead Star
10. S.V.E.S.T. – Urfaust
11. Vlad Tepes – War Funeral March