Just three days left, including this one, before time consigns 2019 to the history books. Although we’re spending more and more time looking ahead to the records that will be released in 2020, we’re not finished with our reflections about metal in 2019. We will have more year-end lists from NCS writers and guests to share with you throughout the coming week, as well as the launch of our Most Infectious Song list, and at least Mr. Synn and I still plan to review some 2019 releases we haven’t gotten around to yet.
I’m doing some of that in today’s column. I picked three advance tracks to recommend from forthcoming 2020 albums, but the other three items are albums or EPs released this year, one of them as far back as August, which already seems like an eon ago. Hope you like all of it.
I’m a bit late getting to this first track, which debuted 10 days ago. That surprised even me, because I’ve been a fascinated follower of Malokarpatan from the beginning. The song is the first one revealed from this Slovakian band’s third album, Krupinské ohne. Its conceptual nature has been described by guitarist Adam as follows:
“Krupinské ohne (The Fires of Krupina) is a concept work dealing with real and magical events that took place during the 17th century in the town of Krupina. A coven of witches operated here and instilled fear in the area that has eventually led to their fiery deaths upon the pyres of the Catholic Church. Adjusted to the conceptual nature of the album, the music is inspired by the specific mystique and adventurous spirit of ’70s progressive rock albums, while still remaining true to our roots of Iron Curtain-style obscure black/heavy metal.”
Adam also praised the cover art created by Slovakian graphic designer and artist Matúš S. Ďurčík (AKA Svjatogor): “[H]is personal style works wonderfully with the historical topic of the record and gives it a feeling of an old book rediscovered after gathering dust somewhere within lost archives. He perfectly understood the tension between the dreamy idyll of a pastoral world and the sinister, nightside elements of folklore that always lies at the heart of our work”.
And finally, I’ll include Adam’s statement about the track below, “Filipojakubská noc na Štangarígelských skalách“: “Despite its eight-minute length, this is in fact one of the shorter songs on the album. We’ve chosen to publish it as we were already playing it live during our late autumn gigs. It has a bit of a hymnic feeling, as within the storyline of the album concept, it describes a dreamlike flashback of one of the Krupina witches, back to a Walpurgis Night when she was received into the clandestine cult and swore an oath to forces beyond this world”.
I added all those quotations because they provide a very appropriate preview of this new track. The song’s opening instrumental passage introduces accents from old folk music as well as fashioning a mood of midnight magic and mystery. From there, a skipping and bounding drum rhythm gets the blood flowing, while the melody of the riffing seems almost beleaguered — and the gritty snarling vocals are downright blood-freezing.
The building momentum of the song carries it into a racing, battering gallop, with a pulse-pounding heavy metal riff that does indeed rock out, and a scintillating solo that darts and soars. As the song continues to surge and recede, the mood continues to shift from one of menace to something like dismal torment, and on again to ebullience, capped by a fanfare-like solo and an outro instrumental that connects back to the beginning, bringing a medieval flair into the music.
Krupinské ohne will be released on March 20 in a variety of formats by Invictus Productions and The Ajna Offensive.
Nadsvest’s black metal is sensationally wild, the kind of music that summons chaos but does so in a way that feels ecstatic rather than apocalyptic. Make no mistake, the music does feel dangerous, because the unchained ebullience and preternatural menace of its sound sometimes verge on derangement — the songs on their fantastic debut EP Kolo ognja i železa often sound like performances by men possessed. But they also sound like triumphs of spirit over the shackles of mundane existence.
How do the Nadsvest duo create such dangerous but inspiring sensations? They do so through pulse-pounding rhythmic drives; slashing and whirling riffs that spiral, soar, and shine; eerie bass vibrations; mystical keyboard accents; and unhinged vocals that range from bestial, throat-cutting snarls to extravagant echoing cries and pungent grunts. They interweave elements of esoteric black metal, old-school heavy metal, and exotic folk traditions to create mystery, majesty, and mayhem.
“Otvori dveri” seems like a mad, head-spinning dance lit by the light of sorcery, but also includes epic heavy metal chords that are red meat for a headbanger. It opens the EP in a way that sets the nerves on fire but also creates an atmosphere of arcane mystery. “Pesma prokletih” is more stately and magisterial, creating a mood of ominous grandeur, yet the high, glimmering melodic accents and choir-like keyboard waves reinforce the music’s exotic, esoteric atmosphere — and eventually it too becomes a hammering, whirling romp.
The music also draws upon old Serbian folk traditions, which is already evident before you reach the title track, but becomes even more evident in the primeval whirling tumult of that track. Punctuated by bursts of booming and tumbling drumwork, the song includes hammering and mind-warping fretwork, skirling folk-influenced melodies, more of those grandiose heavy metal riffs that seem the stuff of sword and sorcery, and a rich panoply of vocal expressions, both demonic and reverent.
To close the EP, “Snovidjenje” at first creates a mood of menace and even gothic horror, and then jumps ahead into a rocking cadence, with sinister yet glorious riffing and another riveting vocal performance that combines infernal savagery and fanatical wailing cries that elevate from deep growls to sky-high incantations. But of course, this song becomes wild and perilous too, and like all the songs before it, it’s packed with varying riffs, all of which bring their own thrills.
Nadsvest is a two-man formation whose stated goal is “to recreate the past of the black arts and mix it with dark Serbian folklore”. One of those two, the Serbian Atterigner, is also a member of Gorgoroth and Triumfall, while the other, New Zealand-born Krigeist (who now lives in Scotland), is also a member of Barshasketh, Svartgren, and Bròn (all three of those bands released 2019 albums you really ought to hear if you haven’t).
Nadsvest’s wonderful debut EP was released on September 1st through Bandcamp Bandcamp, and it was physically released in a slipcase CD edition through Under the Sign of Garazel in October 2019.
I discovered this one-man Ukrainian band through a 2018 EP named Згарище, which I reviewed on the last day of that year. A lot more music by svrm had preceded that release, and now a new album (svrm’s second full-length) will follow it on January 5th. The new album, Позбавлення (which means “Deprivation”, if Google Translate is to be trusted) is a five-track affair, and the title song is the only one that has surfaced so far.
Previous exposure to svrm would accustom you to the band’s capacity to evoke sorrow and create beauty, and svrm proves that ability again in the sublime and soulful opening instrumental of the song (where svrm is added by acoustic guitarist Cronin). But without warning, the song becomes orders of magnitude more powerful. The rise and fall of the piercing riff over a heavy-weight, mid-paced rhythm seem to channel grief and despair. When the drumming surges into a hard-hitting, piston-driven momentum, the scalding vocals sound tortured (and later, lamenting), while the guitar soars in a fever.
In all its movements and all its dark moods, the song is mesmerizing, transportive, and thrilling.
Позбавлення will be released by Vigor Deconstruct on vinyl, tape, and digital formats.
UPDATE: The album’s name has changed, and it’s now entitled Занепад — and it’s also out now, with a different Bandcamp link that I’ve substituted for the original one.
I chose this next track, and placed it here, as an interlude of sorts — and also because I really like it. In a way, it also acts as a kind of bookend for 2019, which saw the early part of the year producing a number of excellent releases with a medieval flair. Many of those were released by the wonderful French label Antiq Records, and the song below comes from another Antiq record scheduled for release on February 2nd.
This new one, entitled Kingdoms Long Gone, is a three-way split album among Bannwald (Austria), Uruk-Hai (Austria), and Druadan Forest (Finland). It is described in PR materials as “a tribute to the dungeon synth subgenre itself,” with “styles ranging from film music to the purest form of video game OST, going through to medieval dark ambient and even medieval music”. Bannwald contributes three tracks, Uruk-Hai delivers two, and Druadan Forest provides a single 19-minute epic.
The first track released for streaming is the one that opens the split, a track by Bannwald called “Fortress I“. I can’t think of a better word for it than “spellbinding”. It proceeds at first at a stately pace, like a majestic march, and the surrounding melodies give it a solemn air, yet the music becomes increasingly vibrant, like the measured movements of a dance in the grand hall of an ancient fortress. The song doesn’t last long, but long enough to spirit the listener away into an age long gone, just as the album’s title foretells.
Kingdoms Long Gone features a front cover created by Marine Février (Arsule), and it will be released on digipack CD and cassette tape formats.
And now I come back to another album released in 2019 (by BlackSeed Productions on October 31st). This one, Doctrine, is the debut full-length of the Spanish black metal band Qayin Regis (which was recorded at Moontower Studios in Barcelona with Javier Félez).
The music of Doctrine is cloaked in an atmosphere of pitch-black menace, with the stage set by the gloom-shrouded yet magisterial opening of the first track, “Via Sincretica Obscura”. The ominous esoteric mood of that opening persists even when the band surge into frenzies of blasting drums, searing riffery, and tyrannical roaring vocals. The guitar leads flicker and flare with unholy light over long, heaving chords, and the music often sounds glorious and majestic, though unearthly in its atmosphere.
As an album opener, that song is frighteningly powerful, and signifies devotion to obscure dark arts. As the rest of the album unfolds through tracks of significant duration, it continues to display dynamic tempos and to interweave passages of grand yet death-worshiping majesty, paroxysms of extravagant violence, feelings of brooding malevolence and utter hopelessness, and persistent flashes of eerie, arcane melody — with episodes of corrosive, mangling noise thrown in for good measure.
Doctrine is a lot to take in, especially because in all of its changing movements it’s relentlessly dramatic, and every song incorporates the same fundamental ingredients, with a few different accents around the edges. Nevertheless, I found it riveting/entrancing.
(Thanks to Miloš for reminding me to listen to this album.)
And to close today’s column I’ve chosen one more 2019 release, and this is the record I mentioned earlier that dates all the way back to August. I recently got an e-mail about this EP, which is the self-titled debut of the Polish black metal band Uklarhet, and I followed a Bandcamp link to the music. There, I quickly noticed that the final track on the EP is a cover of a song by The Cure called “A Forest“. I was listening to The Cure before some of you were born, and still listen to them, so I went right to Uklarhet’s cover before listening to anything else.
That cover was so interesting and so good that I promptly went to the beginning of the EP and started again. The cover is still “A Forest” at its core, but Uklarhet definitely put their own spin on it, making it much heavier and more powerful, and also much more gripping. Gone is the original song’s bouncing beat, replaced by thundering double-bass and neck-cracking snare, and the tremolo’d riffing is significantly more intense and penetrating, while the substitution of vicious goblin snarls for Robert Smith‘s moody croon greatly enhance the cover’s feeling of turmoil and torment. The soloing at the end is beautifully done, capping a really terrific transformation of The Cure‘s original.
It becomes abundantly evident just through that one song that Uklarhet are talented performers and song-writers (and yes, they did re-write that song while still preserving some of its most memorable ingredients). Those talents are equally evident in the preceding four tracks. There is a depressive cast to the songs, but the riffing and leads channel a range of forlorn moods (from more subdued to more delirious) with considerable emotional power, and the inventive and beautifully nuanced rhythm section is quite formidable (aided in their performance by a production that lends their sound skull-busting power as well as clarity). Moreover, the band seamlessly incorporate musical influences from outside black metal (which make their choice of that song by The Cure quite fitting).
All in all, Uklarhet is an electrifying debut which I whole-heartedly commend to your ears.